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Coast Guard hosts simulation exercise

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010

In a multi-agency simulation conducted Thursday morning, a caller reported a bomb on board the Mermaid, a 969-foot passenger vessel docked in Juneau. The vessel had 2,300 passengers and 400 crew - minus a person of interest, Joe Juneau.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

The annual communication exercise involved representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and various Southeast Alaska Marine Industry stakeholders including the City and Bureau of Juneau, Juneau Police Department, U. S. Customs and Border Protection, cruise ship agents, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alaska State Troopers and the Transportation and Security Administration.

"The process starts immediately," CBJ City Manager Rod Swope said. "As soon as the call comes in, the key players are notified within a few minutes."

During Thursday's simulation, the key players gathered in a command post room at Centennial Hall to test communications procedures in the event of a major incident.

The Coast Guard initiated the exercise. The city was notified via a 911 call that the bomb was in the vessel's engine room, set to go off at 4 p.m. The city verified that information with the ship. A 911 dispatcher has a list of people to notify immediately.

"We would then set up an emergency operations center," Swope said. "It would be at the JPD."

The captain of the port, Coast Guard Juneau Commander Capt. Melissa Bert, would oversee the center and be in charge. Attending would be the city manager, representatives from the cruise ship agency, the FBI (due to the terrorist threat), state troopers and customs. After a unified command had been set up, a public affairs officer would address the media. Press releases would be written and worded carefully to avoid tipping off the aforementioned person of interest.

At the incident site itself, a JPD commander would be on scene with the same groups. The area would be closed off. Thane Road would be closed and Egan Highway near the cruise ship docks. A thousand yard radius would be observed. Any immediate dock area businesses would be evacuated. Bartlett Regional Hospital would be alerted.

Explosive-sniffing dogs, used at the airport by TSA, would be brought to the ship. Owners of the cruise ship and customs would make a decision on whether to unload passengers and crew. Each individual would have to be accounted for and tracked. Buses would bring them to Centennial Hall with additional security. Arrangements would be made to transport passengers out of town depending on the length of the investigation. Relief agencies would be asked for cots, food and other supplies.

"We could handle them," Swope said. "But it would be a full house."

If a bomb was verified, the JPD bomb squad and Coast Guard explosive specialists from Anchorage would determine the options.

"This exercise prepares us for when this really happens," Bert said. "I am learning a lot right now - for instance, coordinating the FBI with this person of interest, and crime scene verses the security safety scene... All those things you don't even think about, doing this exercise makes you very aware."

Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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