Pensacola NAS exercise readies base for chemical attack via drone


A small drone hovered above the port of Pensacola Naval Air Station Tuesday morning during a large exercise designed to ready the base for a chemical, biological or radiation attack.

The scenario involved the drone dropping a dangerous chemical over the port, causing five sailors and a security guard to immediately lose consciousness and fall to the ground.

“Drones are a big threat to any airfield or military operation. We are still solidifying our procedures on how to deal with them,” said Trent Hathaway, a base security official who oversaw the exercise.

It was the first large-scale exercise for the local base involving drones, which have become an increasing threat because of evolving technology.  A drone operator could control a drone from several miles away using live video and GPS, making it difficult for security officers to find the source of the threat, Hathaway said.

Pensacola Police Department officers, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputies and other area first responders watched the exercise.

Deputy Jacob Halloway said coordination among the military and local law enforcement agencies is a crucial part of protecting both the base and the surrounding community.

“It is very important that we work together and are familiar with each other, that we know what to expect from each other,” Halloway said as he watched the line of fire trucks approaching safety zone around the port.

The exercise, which took more than two months to organize, required base security and fire officials to figure out the threat and the appropriate response. First responders did not know what chemical the drone delivered and had to prepare for a large number of possibilities before donning their protective gear and trying to help the downed sailors.

Cmdr. Shawn Dominguez said exercise organizers decided on a scenario that involved the drone spreading a drug known as gray death, a deadly mix of heroin, fentanyl and opioids that can spread through the area and is dangerous to touch.

Pensacola Naval Hospital also took part in the exercise, treating 10 sailors who pretended to have been hit with the chemical while doing physical training outside.

As part of the exercise, base loudspeakers told people to stay away from the port.

“Chemical attack, stay clear of building 38. Exercise, exercise,” was the message transmitted throughout the base. “Exercise, exercise, stay clear of port until further notice.”

The drill required emergency officials to determine wind direction and speed to gauge how far the chemical might have traveled.

It took about an hour for firefighters in protective suits with gas masks to reach the downed sailors and security guard.

Dominguez said the crews were learning as they went, stopping to receive guidance from trainers. Continue reading.