In 1995 a terrorist, cult organization in Japan called Aum Shinrikyo perpetrated a Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway (Reader, 2000). It left more than a dozen people dead, and thousands more were affected by the gas but later recovered. Many of those affected by it still have problems today, with issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and fear when using the subway system. They also experience vision problems, and worsening of conditions they already had before the incident (Ogawa, Yamamura, & Ando, et al., 2000). One of the most troubling issues, though, was not that the attack occurred, but the way it was handled by emergency response teams who were called in to contain the problem and care for the people who were injured and sick. The gas was released on a busy subway train full of unsuspecting individuals at a crowded time of day, but the subway trains kept running, even though those in charge of the subway were notified about the incident.
By allowing subway trains to continue to operate, more individuals were put at risk from the deadly gas. At the beginning of the attack, the first responders did not even know what was causing the symptoms. They knew that they were responding to a large scale problem, but they did not realize that it was a terrorist attack and they did not know what they were dealing with when it came to a toxic agent or the long and short-term effects of that agent. A professor from the local University who had studied Sarin gas in the past called the authorities to let them know what they were dealing with after seeing information about the symptoms that were being reported by the media (Ogawa, Yamamura, & Ando, et al., 2000). It was unfortunate that such a large city with such a strong government could not determine what kind of problem was being faced in a timely manner, and had to find out from someone who was not even affiliated with government response teams in any way.
The characteristics of the incident certainly affected the response. Since no one knew exactly what they were dealing with, it was difficult for the first responders on the scene to know how they should treat the patients and whether they were even safe to enter the area where the patients were located. Many people who saw the incident and the resulting chaos said that it looked like a war zone or a battlefield. This was mostly due to the fact that people were lying on the ground all over the place, and the vast majority of them were having trouble breathing. No one was tending to them, because there were so many and there were not enough first responders to adequately help all the people in the midst of the chaos. Sarin gas is very toxic, and can cause vision and breathing problems quite quickly (Eldridge, 2006; Sidell, 1998). It patients are not treated with antidote, they can die if they have been heavily exposed to Sarin. Many people who are only lightly exposed to it will get better when they have fresh air, and they can return to normal relatively quickly.
The response to the incident was multi-disciplinary in nature. Police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel all arrived on the scene. The more critical patients were transported by ambulance, while thousands of others arrived at the hospital in other ways. One of the most significant issues with the response was the ability to turn a nearby hospital into a field hospital and triage area, so that more patients could be seen. It was the only hospital in the area that was equipped to handle that type of response, so people were fortunate that the incident took place close by. If it had been farther away, it was very possible that many more people could have died or been seriously injured (Ogawa, Yamamura, & Ando, et al., 2000). Being able to work closely with the hospital made a difference, but many people were still very angry at the Japanese government for a perceived lack of rapid response. Because the government allegedly did not move quickly enough with the antidote, people who may have lived actually passed away.