Our Stand-by with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution
during anti-terrorism build up at the Olympics

June 4, 1996

U.S. Public Health Service Standing by in Case of Olympic Disaster

By Jim Kvicala, Staff Writer

At first glance, they appear to be some kind of elite military assault unit, with their khaki-colored uniforms, embroidered name tags and combat boots. Their collars, however, bear the golden caduceus insignia- the winged staff with entwined serpents that denotes the profession of medicine. A team from the National Disaster Medical System has been on standby in Athens for the last month, one of 20 such teams stationed throughout Georgia to aid local and state agencies in case of the unthinkable-a catastrophic accident or attack at the Olympics.

"We're essentially technical advisers," said Scott Marks, deputy commander of the "National Medical Response Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction," a Denver based team stationed in Athens. In case of a mass casualty situation, such as a stadium collapse, natural disaster, explosion or chemical accident the team could set up the equivalent of a field hospital if local authorities requested their help.

"We're here to aid and assist local hospitals, the city and community if requested," said Marks. Members are civilian medical professionals from a variety of specialties who are federalized under the U.S. Public Health Service to render assistance in disaster areas. Marks said they normally are mobilized for 14 days a year for training, but for the Olympics they have been in the field 28 days.

Athens was the only venue outside the Atlanta area with a disaster response team on site, according to Dr. Jarrett Clinton, USPHS administrator for the Southeast region. In addition to the NMRTWMD personnel, a specially equipped U.S. Marine Corps team was also assigned to the Olympics, Clinton said. In case of a chemical or biological incident at an Olympic venue, like the nerve gas attacks made on Tokyo's subway system, the Marines would be tasked with recovering the living and bringing them out for decontamination and medical attention.

Military helicopter support is also at their disposal to airlift manpower and material from Dobbins Air Reserve Base to any Olympic site if needed. Clinton said personnel are usually mobilized in Georgia to assist during floods or hurricanes. The Olympics is bigger and more complicated than any other exercise they've ever participated in, he said. "This takes the cake," he said. "We're talking about the expenditure of extraordinary resources." Federal response teams were not mobilized in the case of the Centennial Park
bombing because Atlanta public safety were able to handle the casualties and no federal emergency was declared, he said.