When a dirty bomb exploded inside a van parked at Natick Soldier Systems Center, three people were killed and another 19 were injured.

Fortunately for everyone on hand May 5, the incident wasn't the real thing. Instead, it was part of the annual force-protection exercise at NSSC.

The smoke carried on the brisk May wind contained no radiological particles. The authentic-looking casualties were volunteer role-players covered with makeup rather than blood.

The scenario did, however, test the ability of Natick, other state and federal agencies, and first responders from surrounding communities to react to a crisis on the installation. According to outside evaluators, participants passed that test.

"I think the exercise did a good job identifying what support is available, as well as identifying some areas where we can improve our operations," said Lt. Col. Kari K. Otto, Natick garrison commander. "Emergencies, by nature, are chaotic. So these exercises are good in identifying where we need to focus our energy to minimize the chaos, and to minimize the impact to the families and to the Soldiers."

In the simulated attack, 1,440 personnel were evacuated from the installation, including 11 who underwent decontamination on the scene by Federal Emergency Management Agency Mobile Emergency Response Support personnel. The "wounded" were taken to area hospitals.

Although one bomb detonated, a second was dismantled by Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel from Westover Air Force Base.

"I would like to thank all of you for what you did today," said Brig. Gen. Harold J. Greene, outgoing NSSC commander, to participants after the exercise. "It's terribly important if you look at what's going on in the world today."

Greene's successor, Brig. Gen. John J. McGuiness, pointed out that he saw "everybody on this incident working together from the very start. Thank you very much for participating."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16