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Emergency Workers Turn Up the Heat on Terrorism Response Training

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MOUNT AIRY — A clinic in Lumberton dealt with an anthrax threat Thursday. A call came in that the Lumberton Dialysis Clinic was contaminated with the biological agent.

The threat turned out to be a hoax, but patients and staff were cleared out of the clinic and a hazardous materials team quickly decontaminated the building.

The incident is being treated as a federal act of terrorism.

Terrorists bombed Oklahoma City's Murrah federal building four years ago, and just about any place could be the next target.

That is why the North Carolina Department of Insurance held one of the first and most extensive terrorism response training programs in the country.

Dozens of emergency workers from across the state participated in the training session Thursday in Surry County.

In one exercise, a car bomb exploded in a government building. Crews responding had to handle several challenges at once: put out the fire, treat the wounded, find others trapped in debris and make sure there were no other bombs.

For Robert Suarez, who was part of the crews on the World Trade Center bombing, the scenario was all too real.

"You have actual rubble and people under that rubble, smoke in the surrounding area," Suarez said. "You have the actual environment of what they're going to be placed in, in a situation of a terrorist attack."

One of the other big keys to the training was to get agencies to cooperate because terrorist situations do not just go on for hours. In some cases, they may go on for days or weeks.

That is why some Chapel Hill firefighters were glad to see some familiar faces during the terrorism training.

"We're just so happy that there's a team of four from Durham here," says Capt. Barry McLamb with the Chapel Hill Fire Department. "We're right next door, so it's good for us to see what they know and them to see what we know."

One thing everyone at the clinic did say is if a real situation happens, they will be glad they had the training.

"We're very vulnerable and it's a hot topic right now in fire service and emergency management," McLamb said. "Something that we need a lot of training for because we're going to be the first responders. We're going to be the first ones there."

Organizers of the training say contrary to what most people think, terrorists do pose a serious threat in North Carolina. They mentioned there are several militia and patriot groups based in the state, especially in the mountains.