by Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, June 23 (Xinhua) -- It all started with a massive bang, signaling that a bombing killing and wounding dozens of people had just taken place near the perimeter fence of Tel Aviv's Reading Power Station on Thursday.
In the fifth and final day of the national "Turning Point 5" full-scale homeland security exercise, more than a hundred Israeli police, firefighters and soldiers practiced simultaneously coping with the aftermath of the blast, a passenger plane crash, and a toxic chemical spill -- all taking place simultaneously in and alongside the plant.
In the simulation, salvos of thousands of missiles and rockets from neighboring areas caused extensive damage to critical strategic infrastructure targets like transportation nodes, water supplies, hospitals, and public and military communication networks.
"What we're seeing here is an airplane that has crashed," Israel Police Spokesman, Superintendent Mickey Rosenfeld told Xinhua, as fire rescue crews nearby evacuated the "wounded," and a hazmat crew approached a toxic chemical spill close to the aircraft.
Several volunteers, feigning injury in the crash, lay a few meters away from the wingless body of a small plane, as a team of firefighters in full gear fought a fire in several blazing oil drums, and another used hydraulic scissors to cut through one of the plane's wings, thrown a short distance away.
To add reality, several smoke grenades and thick smoke from the oil billowed red and black smoke into the sky. Fire truck radios crackled logistics instructions and updates, in order to coordinate the assorted teams spread across a several hundred meter area close to the power plant.
In the full-scale, week-long drill, government ministries, the Home Front command, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), multiple first-responder services, 80 municipalities, and millions of civilians practiced coping with a rain of missile slamming down across the country.
In Thursday's scenario, it is the 14th day of a full-scale war, and Israel's foes have so far lobbed some 7,000 missiles into the small country, hitting major population centers. Hundreds are dead and thousands wounded and evacuated to outlying areas, according to Home Front Command Minister Matan Vilna'i, who led the government's civilian response.
Vilna'i said the parameters of the drill were accurate and realistic.
"Our enemies know perfectly well that if they attack us, we will strike them with very tough blows, but we must prepare," Vilnai told Army Radio, "because they have the capacity to fire missiles and rockets at all of our territory."
Essentially, Thursday's drill was a close-up shot of the national wide level of cooperation crucial to dealing with multiple concurrent civilian and military scenarios.
"Different units; fire and emergency services are working together in coordination on the exercise, as well as the hospitals to receive those that have been injured," Rosenfeld said.
"In the Reading power stations, we're dealing with dangerous chemicals that are ablaze around the area ... we've also evacuated hundreds of people as part of the exercise. This is all coordinated through all of the security services: the police, the IDF, and the Home Front Command," Rosenfeld said.
"The drill has gone surprisingly well in every aspect, and we are still working to bridge the gaps we discovered," Vilna'i said, according to The Jerusalem Post. Among those gaps were air raid sirens that wailed several times in cities that have been hit repeatedly by rockets from Gaza instead of once, as according to plan. Frightened residents in Beer Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon thought the drill was a real attack.
But, said Vilna'i of the fifth such exercise, "we are far better prepared today than we were five years ago," referring to the month-long 2006 Lebanon war when northern Israeli cities were hit by an estimated 4,000 rockets fired by Hezbollah militants.
A political firestorm erupted in Israel over what many viewed as a botched military campaign, and confusion between government ministries and municipalities in the largely unprepared civilian sector.
"Today, all government ministries and agencies are synchronized and there is no longer any argument over who is responsible for what," Vilna'i concluded.