Indy Report from Inside the Press Tent at Topoff 4
Our group has gone through the work of getting press badges. Thank you Ginny Ross of the OTA.
My background notes on Topoff 4 have already been posted.
My first day reporting on Topoff 4:
Top Off 4 kicked off in Portland, Guam, and Phoenix on October 15th, 2007. This drill takes place alongside several other drills including both war games and martial law simulations. Our team (Oregontruthalliance.com) met over Thai food as we got our press passes. The first day seemed fairly quiet, so I took the time to go home and get some rest for the long week ahead. Earlier in the week, I made a request to play a victim to the site, t4volunteers.com. I got a email saying they were already done accepting new recruits, followed by another strange one saying that I could participate in a red cross exercise that was taking place in a church in Gresham, or Vancouver. It said to bring whatever I may need to stay overnight and provided an address. Meanwhile, the director of my television program called me up and told me she was driving home from Clackamas and the power was out. We made a note of it.
The next morning I assembled my camera gear.Upon hanging up the phone with Jack Blood, (a radio talk show host on Gcnlive.com) I heard the sound of jets overhead. Then I looked at the clock. 15 minutes til 9 AM, the official launch time of the "live" Topoff 4 drill. It was time to move.
I weaved my way through rush hour traffic worried that the drill in progress would delay my arrival for the official press conference that would pave the way for the rest of the day. The traffic was clear heading north on I -5. Deep sigh of relief...
At approximately 9:06AM a mock dirty bomb exploded at Portland International Raceway. However, the real area of concern is the Topoff 4 exercise was the east end of the Steel Bridge. P.I. R. was determined to be a better location to practice the response capabilities so the city center doesn't have to come to a halt. The media tent was located about 1,000 feet from the staged incident. You could see about 50 police, all in black, with helmets with faceguards. One was walking a K-9 as he stopped to chat with a friend dressed up in a bio-hazard suit. I saw about 40 or 50 of them. This took place to the backdrop of an entire fleet of ambulances, firetrucks, and Red Cross tents. Dozens of firefighters moved into action taking care of the victims. On the ground there appeared to be several non-moving bodies. In another area, you could see a bunch of bodies in some kind of protect quarantine zone.
I was present to witness the press conference that followed with FEMA. There were multiple agencies present, including the FBI and ATF.
I was one of only a few independent videographers present. I traded contact info with a report from Willamette Week. I also bumped onto a reporter from KBOO community radio who came up to me to give me a warm greeting for being there.
Many of the questions that were asked were very basic. I saw all of the television and local radio stations present today, although not all were present during every single staged media event. I asked the media coordinator about Vigilant Shield 08. He told me he couldn't answer any questions on that. That was a DOD issue. I still have yet to find the DOD's PIO (public information officer) . Later I spoke with three AFT agents about the simultaneous drills. The ladies, all in their 40s, listened with partial interest, but gave no facial or verbal response when I was finished. That kind of hurt, but I accept the fact that many participants are simply earning their paychecks, (just like the reporters) and are really too compartmentalized to know or have a reason to care about the 'other' drills.
The next stage was OHSU, one of only two level 1 trauma centers in the state of Oregon. There the media witnessed victims enter a decontamination phase as they entered the hospital. Men in white bio-hazard outfits seemed to be all over the place, and doctors and coordinators conducted interviews with the media. I decided to regain some trust from the FEMA coordinator by asking him some softball questions. He welcomed my interview request by saying with a smile, "I remember you. You're the 'Vigilant Shield' guy. I was amused when a half dozen role playing victims pointed at me. They were viewers of my show, saying "that's the Outside the Box guy."
At 12:30 I was happy to appear on Deadline live. It was the break I needed after the press conference and simulated terror. After a brief 2 hour rest and reflection on the days events, I went back to P.I.R. for the press conference with the DHS, the Mayor, and Governor. The main coordinator of the conference noted that the questions should be kept to Topoff 4, as he glanced in my direction. However, this time the questions got a bit more spicy. One reporter asked about the details about the last drill and why we don't have the information about the results. He mentioned something about martial law that I couldn't quite make out. The response was that information is withheld so it won't fall into the wrong hands. The conference was meant to move very quickly, with no elaboration on anything. Every response was a general one about "working together to keep us safe."
Finally, it was my turn as one of the coordinators said only a few more questions would be granted. I asked the following:
"If this attack does happen, the city will likely be evacuated. Who will make that decision, who will direct it? Also, can the mayor guarantee that the military will NOT be involved in domestic law enforcement in the case of a disaster? I'm asking this due to ND51 pushed into law in May of this year by Bush."
The mayor answered saying that he was the mayor and is in change of those decisions. He then talked about the importance of working with the Federal government in terms of the drill, but never really addressed the real question. He simply sidestepped it with a simple response, to which the coordinator of the conference added his thoughts that that directive is only for an extreme situation. Later, a man had an unrelated question for the governor about a recent scandal involved a Multnomah Country sheriff. The governor shocked the crowd by refusing to answer the question and stormed off the stage. I will remember that moment with a smile for a long time.
The last theatric spectacle of the day for the media to watch took place at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in NE Portland. There, an even more elaborate set up with mock victims was taking place within special tents where the victims were showered down for several minutes. One particular actor enjoyed screaming in pain loudly. He was about 50 or so. This was his moment in Shakespeare. The Topoff4 staff collectively laughed, for this was somewhat comical, but also a bit disturbing that someone would look at this event as a joking matter. One of the media coordinators for the hospital was curious exactly who I worked for, since Portland Community Media did not ring a bell in her head. Throughout the day, I met several people that asked me who I was with. I dressed very professionally and physically blended in. But I think it's hard for a lot of people to comprehend that someone would come to every exercise and event simply to document it for access television. It also seems to stir suspicion about my intentions. I could feel that from a few mainstream reporters.
I was relieved to finish the day, and maintain my press badge, even though its deteriorating from the exposure to the rain . On my route home, near the intersection of NE Columbia and I 205, the traffic lights were blinking red, obviously out of order. I rarely see that happen in Portland. After talking with my friend who witnessed the blackout in Clackamas last night, we figured out it happened during the same time of the evening, yet on two different days in different parts of the Metro area.
I will have another report for you tomorrow. Please spread this report. Thank you. Thursday we will have a full hour special on this topic. Ginny Ross from the Oregon Truth Alliance will be with me. (oregontruthalliance.com)
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