Michigan, New York, Washington, and Florida

Michigan Plays a perfect game before defending the Great Lakes

The state of Michigan hosted two major preparedness drills in May, running multiple scenarios against targets in the city of Detroit. The first exercise, called “Operation Perfect Game,” included three simulated attacks designed to cause mass casualties and hysteria in the downtown area at and near Comerica Park, the stadium scheduled to host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July. The simulated attacks included a release of sarin gas inside the stadium and simultaneous vehicle bombings and anthrax releases in the streets surrounding the stadium. The full-scale exercise tested the communications and coordination capabilities of the city’s police, fire, and medical agencies, and other organizations, and is expected to help responders plan for future “real-life” incidents at or near Comerica Park.

The second exercise, dubbed “Great Lakes Defender,” was broken down into two separate scenarios and the responses associated with each. “Operation Bridge Out” simulated an attack on the Sault Ste. Marie Bridge that links Detroit with Ontario, Canada. The second scenario, called “Operation Rogue Tanker,” simulated the hijacking of an oil tanker on the Detroit River, followed by a release of oil into the river by terrorists, accompanied by threats to blow up the tanker. The U.S. Coast Guard played a key role in the two scenarios by providing both materials and manpower, including barges that could be used to create a temporary bridge and tactical-response teams that would be deployed in the hostage-rescue operations.

A third exercise, somewhat smaller in scale, was carried out at the Metropolitan Airport. U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel worked with first responders from Wayne County and the state’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to test their respective responses to a simulated attack – i.e., the launch of a shoulder-fired missile – on an aircraft. Bob Ball, who heads the federal TSA team at the airport, stressed the importance of testing communications and coordination plans, skills, and equipment, and how they might be used, “in advance of an actual event.” The airport scenario was not based on any specific threat intelligence, and did not affect routine aviation operations.

New York Considers the purchase of an advanced helicopter for firefighting, rescue operations

A proposal to purchase an advanced-capabilities helicopter for the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has been presented by the city’s FDNY and EMS (emergency medical services) chiefs to FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta and other senior city officials. The proposed Firehawk helicopter, built by Sikorsky Aircraft, is a modified military Black Hawk that can carry over ten passengers and/or drop a significant volume of water to extinguish fires. New York City is one of the few major U.S. cities whose fire department does not have one or more helicopters of its own.

The purchase proposal is being seriously considered by FDNY leaders, because the versatile Firehawk could be used not only for surveying and extinguishing fires, but also for delivering supplies and manpower, and evacuating injured citizens. City officials are looking into the possibility of funding the purchase through Homeland Security grants, but FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon has indicated that, whatever the source of the funding, a purchase decision has not yet been made.

Currently, FDNY chiefs ride, as passengers in New York Police Department (NYPD) helicopters to survey fires and other emergencies, but the relatively small NYPD helicopters are not designed for rescue missions as large or as complex as those the Firehawks could carry out. The proposal to purchase a Firehawk comes – not coincidentally, perhaps – only a few weeks after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the NYPD and FDNY to work together under a new protocol that he issued after the two departments had clashed over what their roles and responsibilities would or should be in the event of an attack involving one or more weapons of mass destruction. Bloomberg’s protocol assigns incident command to the NYPD whenever chemical, biological, or radiological attacks occur. New York City operates under what is called CIMS – the Citywide Incident Management System, which is derived primarily from NIMS, the National Incident Management System.

Washington Conducts its first bio-terrorism exercise

The first Washington State Annual Bio-Terrorism Exercise was conducted at the end of May. Police departments, health officials, emergency management agencies, and hospitals across four counties were joined by the American Red Cross and state officials during the exercise, which was paid for with Homeland Security grant funds.

The three-day exercise began with a simulated attack on the first day; the participating agencies worked through the rescue and treatment scenarios during the last two days. Much of the exercise consisted of tabletop drills and discussions. The most publicly visible components of the exercise were “sick” residents being “diagnosed” at hospitals and the distribution of medications provided from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Strategic National Stockpile. Dr. Mimi Fields, a public health officer for Whakiakum and Cowlitz counties, said that a principal purpose of the drills was “to test all of the counties’ emergency management systems.”

Florida Sets aside a special “holiday” for disaster preparedness

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has signed legislation that authorizes the state’s first “holiday” – more specifically, a tax holiday – for disaster preparedness. Various preparedness supplies purchased during the 12-day holiday, which runs from 1 June through 12 June, will be exempt from sales tax during that period, Bush stated. “Being prepared for hurricane season can protect property and save lives,” he commented. Bush said he is encouraging Florida residents to take advantage of the holiday by making better and more complete preparations for the 2005 hurricane season. Batteries, flashlights, generators, and containers are high on the list of tax-free items recommended for purchase during the 1-12 June holiday period.

Related Note: The Port of Miami is considering the collection of security fees directly from cruise ship passengers, rather than imposing the fees on cruise lines. The amount of the fee has yet to be determined, but it would be added to the price of a passenger’s ticket in much the same way that security fees are added to the cost of airline tickets. The Port of Miami plans to discuss the fee proposal with other major Florida ports during the June meeting of the Florida Ports Council.

Anthony Lanzillotti

Anthony Lanzillotti



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