High School War on Terror Theatre

Posted in Bioterrorism, War On Terror at 6:42 am by George Smith

Beggaring common sense, one reads of a high school teacher in New Mexico going over the top in his zeal to be involved in war on terror readiness:

It was supposed to be a lesson on how to respond to a bioterrorism attack but it quickly turned into a lesson on what happens when not everyone is informed about what’s going on.

During a passing period on April 26 in the courtyard of Rio Rancho High School, as students of teacher Justin Baiardo’s epidemiology class thought they were leaving for a field trip, seven students seemingly started to hemorrhage, convulse and dropped to the ground with what looked like blood spewing from their mouths. A young girl screamed. Emergency and first responders came to the scene. At least one coach tried to perform CPR on one of the non-responsive students. Calls to 911 were made and students sent panicked text messages.

Unknowingly to many students and some teachers, the entire scene was an “exercise.”

The students who collapsed to the ground — and one who “fell’ down some stairs — were actors coached by Baiardo to simulate a bioterrorism attack.

Baiardo said he wanted his students to experience an attack and use the lessons learned in his class. In order to achieve some realism, Baiardo kept not only his students in the dark but also the vast majority of the student body.

“I tried to cause a little panic,” Baiardo said. “It had to be spontaneous. The reaction from my kids would not have been there if we told the parents beforehand. I wanted them to respond to a situation like we have been talking about it. [Being] spontaneous was necessary.”

Baiardo described the exercise as a way for his students to study how disease can be transferred through populations. He said the school’s principal was informed of the exercise and it had been in the works for weeks.

Predictably, there was some disagreement on its value, the teacher arguing that a bit of panic now and then is good as a learning exercise, others in emergency services arguing — not so much.

“[The chaos] that morning was intentional so as to mimic a true panic situation, a concept foreign to most individuals in this day and age,” wrote the teacher in a letter to the newspaper. “Controlled panic (fire drills, etc.) fails to instill the reality that a true panic situation might hold and judging by the apathetic reactions of many students during the simulation, I am concerned by the desensitization that I witnessed first-hand within the student population. Such is the pampered environment that we create for our youth in which they are never really exposed to true tests of resolve.”

Added the newspaper:

But Rio Rancho Battalion Chief Paul Bearce said he voiced reservations about the exercise. A week prior, a student approached Bearce about participating in the mock event.

“I knew it was going to be a situation where people were going to panic … When we found out the scenario, I voiced concerns. Students didn’t realize it was a scenario. My concerns of what I anticipated would happen — happened.”

Fire Rescue sent a rescue company to the school for an hour.

Anticipating people panicking and calling 911, Bearce contacted the dispatch center and told them to route reports of an attack at Rio Rancho High to him.

“We had concerns — we wanted to make sure no one got hurt and there was no mass panic,” he said.

“A little panic can be healthy,” countered the teacher.

And, by the way, what disease actually causes people to fall down simultaneously with blood spurting from their noses and mouths? Something from a made-for-TV movie about Ebola virus horror? The Masque of the Red Death?

[N.B., folks: This is different from when you were a kid in grade school and someone vomited in the back of the classroom. And then one or two others followed suit from the stench and hysteria.]

Next week: Rigging a simultaneous white powder hoax and fake gunfire breaking out in the school commons as terrorists attack.


  1. Michael said,

    May 28, 2010 at 4:29 am


    Decades of military, paramedic, red cross, and other training prove that scenarios, practice, exercises and the like are the best preparation for real world events. The teacher is misinformed as to the nature of training and preparation and mistakenly thinks that it only works if it is “real.”

    There are plenty of studies that prove that deliberate practice has real effects on learning and ability, including just thinking about how to do things.

  2. J Baiardo said,

    June 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    I find that my actions in this regard were taken out of context by the newspaper, despite my efforts. The newspaper story was centered around a few parent complaints of some students falling down bleeding (yes, in an unrealistic synchronized fashion). The purpose of this was in no way to simulate a terrorist attack for the student body, but an emergency situation for my 32 students, who were waiting in the center courtyard of the school for a supposed field trip on which they were about to embark. The paper failed to mention the fact the work that my students performed for the next five hours as they worked hand in hand with the Air Force terror response team in setting up a quarantined hot zone perimeter (and performing full mobile lab setup and area decontamination), after which every surface of the entire school was searched and analyzed, with samples taken. Such samples were taken back to our BSL Level II lab I have established at the school in which they work with hazardous pathogens almost every day of the year. The article from the paper was slanted toward parent complaints and the campus-wide panic which was really not the intention. The true motive was to simulate a medical emergency situation in which powder was found on several of the victims (who displayed serious symptoms), and the appropriate response that my students, given their extensive training in biohazard and epidemiological response, would undertake. I am well aware of the unrealistic components of the simulation.
    This exercise was performed for the benefit of my students. The school-wide observance was nothing more than a display, and yes, a little tension, for an unsuspecting population.
    Given the overwhelmingly positive response I received from my students as they worked closely with the military in conjunction with our school’s advanced lab, I am proud of the education that was achieved.