"It kind of scares me that we have to have a place like this in our society," says local resident Brenda Manos. "But it's reassuring to know that we have one."
When the local copper mine went bust a few years back, Playas was left nearly deserted. Enter New Mexico Tech University, which had the idea to turn the ghost town into the centerpiece of its anti-terror training operations.
"We think it's vital for people to get firsthand experience, not just classroom and not just simulated," says Van Romero, vice president at New Mexico Tech. "Actually, here in the town of Playas, we control everything."
In 2004, the university shelled out $5 million to buy Playas lock, stock and barrel. New Mexico Tech has been developing weapons and programs to counter suicide bombers since World War II, when Japanese kamikaze pilots targeted U.S. ships.
The targets are different today. And, says Romero, so is the training.
"When Oklahoma City occurred," he says, "we were asked 'OK, great, you help the FBI, you help the ATF, but how about the cop on the beat, and the fireman. They show up in minutes after the bomb goes off. Can you help them?'"
Those are exactly the type of first responders for whom a five-day course in anti-terrorism is designed.
How hard is it to get across what it's really like, post-suicide bomb? Trainer Aaron Richman explains, "It's extremely difficult; the real situation — nothing can replace it. But this is as close as possible to the real detonation."
In the last eight years, 40,000 police fire and emergency personnel have gone thru the program, 1,000 of them at Playas. But this kind of training doesn't come cheap. It costs the Department of Homeland Security upward of $20 million a year.
Mark Short, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, says the training is worth the money. "Saving and protecting American lives is difficult to place a dollar value on," he says. "But here, the lessons that are learned will protect American lives."
The policemen training at Playas aren't worried about if the training will pay off … but when.
"We're going to be the first ones out there," says John Bertuca of the DuPage County, Ill., bomb squad, "so we're going to be the ones everyone looks to to do something."
They will — if the terror that plays out every day in Playas ever plays out for real one day.