A booming crack and a cloud of smoke from a small metallic device caused hundreds to scream, clutch their bodies and quickly head to the exits of M&T; Bank Stadium yesterday.
Soon, the parking lots outside the stadium were filled with flashing lights from firetrucks as emergency response workers tended to hundreds of disaster drill participants portraying ailing sports fans.
The three-hour exercise, "Operation Purple Haze," gave 300 local first-response providers an opportunity to prepare for a terrorist attack involving a simulated nuclear weapon. Organizers stressed that the exercise was an attempt to be proactive, and not in response to any specific terrorist threat.
"I am really excited about the number of people taking time out to take a proactive approach to making citizens feel safe," Mayor Sheila Dixon said shortly before the exercise began.
Similar scenarios have been staged at the Ravens' stadium for years, officials said, but yesterday's event, which included 500 volunteers posing as game fans, was the largest yet.
The lessons learned in the exercise at the stadium can be applied to other venues throughout the city and region, such as the Hippodrome and the soon-to-be-opened Convention Center hotel, according to Dixon.
"It's not that we hope for an incident to happen," Dixon said. "It's so we are prepared for an incident should it happen."
This year, Baltimore received $11.5 million in federal funding from the Urban Area Security Initiative, according to Dixon's office. Last year the city received $11.8 million. The money helps to pay for equipment and precautionary drills such as the one held yesterday.
"There is no more important job than to protect others from harm," Dixon said.
The drill allowed for first-responders at the city, state, and federal level to join with Dixon's office, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Maryland Stadium Authority.
The mock event was as true to real life as possible. Five hundred volunteers were recruited to act as fans at a game affected by a nuclear attack. They were assigned information cards that listed their injuries from the explosion. The cards even contained vital statistic such as blood pressure, which medical workers used to treat the injured on site.
Other volunteers were given scripts directing them to attempt to sneak by stadium employees in an attempt to search for missing relatives. Some were painted with makeup to simulate varying injuries.
The magnitude of the drill was part of "the Ravens' ongoing effort to do everything we can do to make the stadium secure," said team President Dick Cass. "We take this very, very seriously."
An attack could happen in any area of the region with a large population, officials said.
"We are never going to be totally ready for the unexpected," Cass said. "Today will allow us to be better prepared."
The Maryland Stadium Authority, which oversees several sites including M&T; Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, was particularly interested in the activity.
Camden Yards has 3.5 million visitors a year, said David Raith, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "That's why it's important that we have exercises," he said. "We have a lot of people that come through."
Volunteers for yesterday's exercise included stadium employees, season ticket holders and residents of surrounding neighborhoods.
Melissa and Darrell Shelton, a couple who work security at the stadium, immediately volunteered for the chance to participate in the exercise.
"I'm trying to understand what would happen if we emptied out the stadium," Darrell Shelton said. "Every location is an eventual security target. I don't let it get to me."
Melissa Shelton said she feels safer knowing that the stadium staff is prepared for emergencies.
"I think that fans should feel safe and secure," she said.