By TATABOLINE BRANT
Anchorage Daily News
August 17, 2005
Among the scenarios scheduled: fighter jets escorting a civilian plane into Anchorage, the Coast Guard roping out of a helicopter onto a state ferry near Whittier, and a large fire and police response at a government building in Palmer.
The events are part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge, intended to test the ability of local, state and federal agencies to respond together to a major disaster.
While the military has long held Northern Edge training exercises in summer, this will be on a larger scale than in the past, and it will include state and local civilian agencies to a much greater extent than before. The push came after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the form of a presidential directive. Similar exercises have been held in other parts of the country, officials said.
Organizers have been trying to get the word out so people won't get alarmed. Specifics of some of the operations are being kept secret to surprise participants and make the training as real as possible, organizers said.
The goal, officials said, is to help responders understand one another's roles during a crisis and identify weaknesses in the system.
Organizers hope to incorporate local agencies into the exercise every other year, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Howie Chandler, commander of Joint Task Force-Alaska, which planned this year's exercise with direction from U.S. Northern Command. The Department of Defense is footing most of the bill for the exercise, contributing $4.7 million, officials said.
"Having a strong working relationship between federal, state and local governments is vital in preparing for, and responding to, not only natural disasters but any other terrorist or man-made event," Chandler said in a written statement.
Around 2,100 Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel will participate in the exercise, which will include mock terrorist attacks from the sky and sea, Chandler said. Already, three U.S. Navy ships - an unusual sight in Alaska - have pulled into ports in Seward, Homer and Kodiak to participate, surprising residents.
Judi Sweeney, who works for the harbor office in Seward, said she got calls when the USS Russell, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer from Pearl Harbor, pulled in there. "We've had people coming in wanting to go on tours," she said in a telephone interview. "Nobody knew it was coming." (The ship's crew obliged with the tours, she said.)
Almost 30 communities across the state will deal with simulated emergencies this week, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, officials said. Some of the exercises could include small explosions, bright flashes of light, loud sirens and the increased presence of military aircraft and vehicles. Officials said the communities with such live events include Anchorage, Barrow, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, North Pole, Whittier, Unalaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
be reached at tbrant(at)adn.com
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