Joint Base Andrews runs through disease containment exercise

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The simulation required military members to respond to a suspicious suitcase that released a hazardous smoke

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — Joint Base Andrews in the capital region is maintaining operational readiness through an annual disease containment exercise.

It’s a sobering reality that a domestic or foreign terrorist could target Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County in an act like dropping off a suspicious suitcase right by a main gate.

“We are always vulnerable to be attacked. It can always happen,” said Lt. Col. Jung Lee with the U.S. Air Force.

And it’s that possibility that leads airmen on base to practice handling a potential disease outbreak.

“There’s a lot of weaponized toxins and viruses, and also bacteria out there. There’s also persistent and non-persistent nerve agents out there. These exercises are basically to help us to respond to mass causality situations,” explained public health emergency officer, Col. Tim Duffy.

The airborne toxin simulated in the exercise is a coronavirus that causes Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome and can be deadly.

“You’ve got to know is there a vaccine? Is there an antibiotic? What is the treatment? In the case of today’s exercise, that coronavirus, there is no known vaccine. It’s got a 60-percent fatality and it’s just a nasty virus,” Duffy said.

Security forces, the U.S. Air force Fire Rescue and other airmen tended to the scenario to clear the scene, set up a perimeter and assess the situation.

Military officials say the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be called in to lead the containment efforts, but it’s those on-base who would be first to tackle the attack. And it’s exercises like this one that keeps them ready to do so.

“We cannot relax ourselves and not do training on responding to such an instance because it may happen at any time. It may happen today or tomorrow and bring harm’s way to our community so we cannot let that happen,” Lee said.

Military officials say the disease containment exercise is practiced at least once a year.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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