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Ref: VA town to be center of national emergency drill

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Hampton Roads to be a national model in disaster simulation


By JACK DORSEY, The Virginian-Pilot


The Joint Forces Command will concoct scenarios to test the responses of agencies at all levels. The Virginian-Pilot file photo

NORFOLK - A sleeper terrorist cell suddenly awakens in Norfolk, arriving by ship and prepared to launch an attack.

Aboard is a "dirty bomb" - radioactive material packaged with dynamite, set to explode and spread radiation across Hampton Roads.

At the same time, continents away, two ships collide at the entrance to the Suez Canal, causing a major oil spill. In Naples, Italy, another ship explodes while unloading jet fuel at a port.

Then a ship in port at Halifax, Nova Scotia, releases a poison chemical.

Could things get worse? Yes.

A Category III storm over the Bahamas is expected to make landfall in Hampton Roads within 72 hours.

OK, it's fiction. But on April 23, the folks at the Joint Forces Command's Joint Innovation & Experimentation office in Suffolk will be whirling their computers at warp speed to make it look real.

They've chosen Hampton Roads as a national model, using these frightfully complicated scenarios to test the mettle of more than 20 military, federal, state and city agencies in a unique two-part exercise.

The command is conducting the exercise to demonstrate how it can develop future concepts and capabilities and build partnerships at the state, national and international levels.

"It's a great experiment where we have taken all these skill sets of modeling and simulation and modeled the whole Hampton Roads area, with focus on Norfolk," Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, commander of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, said at an editorial board meeting with The Virginian-Pilot this week.

Plans call for using a laser mapping system, Light Detection and Ranging, to create a copy of Norfolk's buildings, streets and waterfronts in three-dimensional views that are accurate within inches. It is one of many modeling and simulation tools being used in the exercise.

It will show which buildings would be under water when a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet comes ashore, or which roads will allow traffic to get in or out of the city, he said.

The event will be indoors and won't be visible to the public.

The first part of the exercise, called Noble Resolve, will take place from April 23-27. It will concentrate on secret portions of the sleeper cell attacks; results likely will not be disclosed to the public.

The second part, from April 27-28, is called the Virginia Emergency Response Team Exercise and will focus on the simulated hurricane.

It will be anchored in Richmond by the Emergency Operations Center and will use computer models to track the hurricane hitting Hampton Roads, said Rear Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who heads the Suffolk-based Joint and Experimentation Directorate.

"This is an exercise and an experiment," Winnefeld said Thursday. "It's a new thing for Virginia, and we are encouraged we are doing this in advance of a crisis, rather than when the crisis hits."

James Talbot, Norfolk's deputy coordinator for its Emergency Operations Center, said Thursday he was not yet aware of details of the exercise.

"I expect the city will participate with a lot of public safety response teams from the fire and police departments," he said.

Schools, hospitals and many other institutions also will be involved, but only from a computer view in the Virginia Emergency Response Team Exercise scenario.

The exercises will put emergency responders through simulated terrorist attacks, as well as weather-related disasters.

Both will include representatives from Northern Command, European Command, Strategic Command, Pacific Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard Bureau.

The hurricane exercise will draw representatives from the state government, Virginia National Guard, Hampton Roads ports, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maersk Shipping, the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, and other emergency responders.

Winnefeld said the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, based at Fort Monroe in Hampton, is participating as well.

The command "asked us to create a homeland security event that would impact on their deployment of forces," he said.

That's why the exercise includes clogging up the Suez Canal and detonating a refinery in Naples.

The simulation will provide a series of lessons, similar to what the command did after Hurricane Katrina, Smith said.

Communication, or the lack of it, will likely be the main area of concern, judging from the lessons of past hurricanes.

"We still haven't fixed it, and we will never fix it until we have exercises like this," Smith said.

Only then will a mayor find out, say, that his car radio can't communicate with the police chief, who can't communicate with the fire chief or the FEMA guy, because they all got great deals from their favorite salesman on different communications gear, Smith said.

"Theoretically, if we were doing the exercise and things didn't go very well, the governor, or the FEMA director, or the mayor, or even me, could say: 'That was awful and we need to go back and do it again,' " Smith said.

Reach Jack Dorsey at (757) 446-2284 or jack.dorsey@pilotonline.com.



İ 2007 HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com

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