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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2005

Seminar envisions bomb at lake port

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With the frigid, crashing waves of Lake Erie visible through the windows behind them, federal, state, and local officials discussed yesterday how they would respond to a dirty bomb alert aboard a freighter in a lake port.

They weighed who would respond, how they would communicate, and for what each agency would be responsible.

The daylong terrorism seminar at Maumee Bay State Park focused on how to help law enforcement officials, emergency responders, and maritime agencies coordinate efforts in an attack scenario.

It was a day spent talking through problems and building relationships. Organizers said an actual drill will occur later.

"Local, state, and federal agencies are coming together to learn all their abilities and limitations," said Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"This is a great learning experience. At one point, I saw someone from the U.S. Coast Guard talking to someone from a local police department. They were talking about going out on the lake together. Those are the relationships we want to see building," he said.

Sponsored by the ODNR, the exercise asked participants to develop a plan to deal with a terrorist-claim of a radiologically contaminated explosive device hidden aboard a ship in a Lake Erie port.

To add more challenge to the exercise, the terrorist faction included three demands: Release of one of their leaders, safe passage out of the country for the terrorists, and a large amount of cash.

C.J. Couch, a spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said that although the focus of the exercise was on a terrorist act, the information shared yesterday could be used in any emergency situation.

"What's unique about this one was that it focused on law enforcement. Here, law enforcement came together to talk about how they would specifically respond," added Nancy Dragani, executive director of the state emergency management agency.

Area sheriffs' departments, county emergency management officials, and members of various police departments from Toledo to Cleveland participated in the session.

Other state and federal agencies, including the Ohio National Guard, Ohio State Highway Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI, sent representatives to the exercise.

Mr. Speck said participants likely would share the information from the seminar with personnel at their respective departments.

Although the meeting was closed to outsiders, Mr. Speck said the public should keep in mind that exercises like yesterday's do exist.

"If terrorists are paying attention and see the preparation, then that has a value in its own right," he said.

"You're going to protect by being prepared."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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