WILLOW ISLAND - The Transportation Security Administration in conjunction with several other federal, state and local agencies conducted an all-day field exercise Wednesday covering 5,000 square miles of the tri-state area.
The Visible Intermodel Prevention and Response operation took place on what is designated as the Ohio River Transportation Corridor, which includes Wood County and Washington County in Ohio. The operation was coordinated by Michael Cleveland, federal security director, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The exercise covered parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and included air, water and ground resources.
James M. Fotenso, public affairs manager with the TSA, said the operation was one of the largest of its nature in the country.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Wood County Assistant 911 Director Carl Sizemore describes what is happening on the screen behind him while 911 Director Randy Lowe watches in the command center room of the Wood County Mobile Command Center Wednesday.
Throughout the day, Coast Guard boats took to the river, the Ohio Air National Guard was flying Black Hawk helicopters with multi-jurisdictional teams onboard, joined by the West Virginia Air National Guard and other aircraft, as well, as law enforcement vehicles were all visible at various "targets" and other general infrastructure, including the Willow Island Locks and Dam, throughout Wednesday's drill.
"The exercise was multi-state, multi-county, multi-federal government agencies working together and preparing. This is how we practice and prepare. Some of the targets include industrial plants, pipelines, surface or road assets, including inspections along I-77, which were done in conjunction with the Ohio State Highway Patrol," Fotenso said. The TSA Mobile Command Unit set up at the Willow Island Locks and Dam was the nerve center for Wednesday's field training exercise, allowing real-time tracking and communications with the units in the field.
"We have the ability to link up with other agencies, the TSA in Washington, D.C., with videos, the decision-makers who need to have real-time information," Fotenos said, noting all the field exercises are archived so they can be reviewed later. "We will take lessons learned and look at procedures, work with our partners and improve procedures so in the event of a real incident, we profit from these scenarios," he said.
Also at Willow Island there was a tent equipped with numerous computers and maps showing the infrastructure in the area that could potentially be targets for potential terrorist attacks.
Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy was on site at Willow Island on Wednesday.
"The sheriff's office had 10 deputies assigned to various different units. We ran the command post at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and the department's helicopter, which was funded by Homeland Security money, participated in the exercise. We want to have a major role in homeland security in our area with all the chemical plants and infrastructure here, Public Debt, we want to get more involved and the only way to help with prevention, and respond properly if something actually does happen is through good training," Sandy said.
Fotenos estimated there were more than 400 individuals involved in the exercise on Wednesday.
The Wood County Mobile Command Unit and the Incident Dispatch Team were set up at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.
"We tested our radio and data communications with local, state and federal agencies. We also served as a secondary command post," said Randy Lowe, 911 director. Lowe and Wood County Emergency Management Director Ed Hupp were among those at the airport command center during Wednesday's exercise.
"We have our incident dispatch team communicating with the Wood County Sheriff's Department, West Virginia National Guard, local sheriff's department and several other agencies involved in the exercise by utilizing our West Virginia interoperable radios. We are also pushing pictures from the helicopters that are being emailed to the command vehicle and to the state commander. It's was tested and worked well," Lowe said.
"The purpose of these exercises is to find out what works and what doesn't work, basically. We are in contact with the other centers to see how well the communications are working," Hupp said.
"The exercise not only enhances security throughout the region, it gives TSA and our security partners the opportunity to work cooperatively," said Donald Barker, TSA Columbus Federal Security director. "This work increases our preparedness in case of emergencies." The operation was a scheduled training and not in response to a specific threat, Barker said.
Federal partners in the operation were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and Federal Air Marshal's. State participants from Ohio and West Virginia included the Ohio National Guard, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Emergency Management Agency, Columbus, Ohio Fire Division Bomb Squad, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Office of Homeland Security, West Virginia National Guard, West Virginia State Police and West Virginia Fusion Center. Local participation included DuPont, CSX Railroad Police, Appalachian Power, SABIC, Columbia Gas, Dominion, First Energy, PP&G, Duke Energy, Marathon Petroleum and American Electric Power.