By Ellen Babin
WesCom Wire Service
BROOKINGS Two suspicious 55-gallon drums and an unidentified substance were the catalysts for a hypothetical terrorist threat/disaster drill that brought National Guard units and local law enforcement and emergency workers to the Port of Brookings Harbor Tuesday.
The multi-agency Homeland Security drill, based on the scenario that a terrorist group was about to release a weapon of mass destruction at the port, was designed by the Davis Defense Group of Quantico, Va. The exercise began Tuesday and was expected to go through the night, ending Wednesday.
The exercise was planned as training for the 102nd Civil Support Team of Salem, Ore., and its sister team in Hayward.The U.S. Coast Guard and local fire, law enforcement and emergency response agencies participated in the event.
The terrorist threat scenario was not immediately known to the participants, who were left to deal with various situations as the scenario unfolded through the exercise.
The port was chosen as the site for the exercise because it is halfway between Salem and Hayward, and because of the cooperation of Curry County Emergency Services Manger Mike Brace and Port of Brookings Harbor Harbormaster Mike Blank, said Mike Talley, lead exercise coordinator for Davis Defense Group.
The 102nd CST, the only one in Oregon, is a 22-person National Guard team comprised of both Army and Air Force personnel. Its members receive, on average, more than 500 hours of special training. All its members are Hazmat technicians.
On Tuesday, emergency vehicles gathering near the commercial boat basin attracted onlookers and spurred calls to the Curry Coastal Pilot, Brooking's newspaper.
Though kept away from the exercise site, the curious could see people dressed in what looked like high-tech moon-walking gear, suited-up firefighters and groups of men and women dressed in military garb.
As the drill continued Tuesday, it was estimated that before it was complete it would involve 50 to 70 people.
Though planned as a training exercise for the two CSTs, the drill was a learning experience for local volunteers and paid personnel as well.
The exercise scenario was designed to "unfold naturally," according to Talley.
None of the personnel responding, including Lt. Col Steve Ferrell, commander of the 102nd CST, knew what was happening upon their arrival, but had to get information and formulate logistics from material gleaned at the scene.
Ferrell said all that occurred spooled out as if it were a true situation, something that was emphasized throughout the exercise.
Fictional components included evacuating the area and detaining three men connected to gangs and wanted by the FBI.
At one point, a $300,000 vehicle that could travel in any kind of terrain was put into action as the parking lot was swept for contaminants. Also among the cutting-edge gear on the scene was a truck fitted with a satellite dish that enabled communication anywhere in the world.
At one point, the Harbor Fire Department had to pull one of its trucks out of the mud next to the parking area at the port. Its driver was attempting to get around set-up barriers.
Soon after, a Curry County Sheriff's deputy and Cal-Ore Life Flight ambulance had to leave the exercise to respond to a real emergency call.
If the exercise had been a real crisis, such departures of personnel would not have hindered the response because, Talley said, the Oregon Emergency Response system would have already tapped resources available in Oregon and out of state.