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Military pageantry at Bowl

A different kind of pageant was staged Wednesday at the Irvine Bowl. Instead of hosting meticulously costumed volunteers posing amid classic works of art, the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters venue became the setting for a mock investigation of weapons of mass destruction.

The scenario included camouflage-clad National Guardsmen and Civil Support Team members stationed at Los Alamitos, Orange County hazardous materials units, and Laguna Beach firefighters and police.

They were gathered for a training exercise in preparation for a full-scale certification drill next week in Santa Barbara, said Keith Haviland of the Ninth Civil Support Team unit.

Haviland said the Irvine Bowl was selected for the mock event not because it is believed to be the target of a potential threat, but because it’s the “perfect venue” for a small-scale drill leading up to the large-scale mock event, which will include “victims.” No mock victims were used in Wednesday’s drill.

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The Laguna drill also allowed the National Guard to work closely with local public safety agencies, called “friendly forces.”

The scenario went like this: A white supremacist had decided to send a message of hate by causing panic and possible harm at a Pageant of the Masters event at which an African-American artist was being honored.

In the packed Bowl, a chemical cloud was suddenly released, causing a panicked stampede of 150 persons, during which a radioactive, or “dirty,” bomb went off.

There were no deaths, but 150 people had to be evacuated and some decontaminated.

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The scenario was based on an actual case of a man in Maine who was found in December to have stockpiled weapons of mass destruction — in his home. The man was apparently angered by Barack Obama’s election as president.

The man hadn’t gotten the chance to use his weapons — radioactive substances purchased over the Internet — because his wife killed him, claiming years of abuse.

To prepare for the scenario, a member of the team placed items inside the Bowl, including a broken bottle with a weak chemical in it, some debris indicating a bomb explosion, and other indicators of what took place.

That morning, National Guard trucks pulled in where the Festival of Arts is staged, setting up mobile units with equipment for communications, decontamination and medical treatment.

As the mock event progressed, Festival staff watched in fascination as specially trained soldiers suited up in coveralls, complete with breathing apparatus, before heading into the Bowl to conduct their investigation. As an indication of just how meticulously the mock event was planned, Haviland described exactly how the “terrorist” had escaped from the Bowl and eluded law enforcement.

The Civil Support Team is on standby to assist local law enforcement and firefighters not only in the event of a major terrorist attack, but also has been helping out during the recent spate of firestorms over the past two years, Haviland said.


CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.


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