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East Bergen terrorism drill goes smoothly — and you didn’t even notice

Photo Credit: by CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM (No re-use without permission
Photo Credit: by CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM (No re-use without permission
Photo Credit: by CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM (No re-use without permission

EXCLUSIVE : The alert went out at 1 o’clock sharp: Imaginary terrorists had quietly detonated a radiological device in the New York City area. As county and local police from several towns took positions in eastern Bergen, the drill’s coordinator monitored the responses closely from a command post at the county police and fire academy in Mahwah.

PHOTOS by CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM
(No re-use without permission)

None of the Bergen County emergency responders had a clue when the call would come or where they would be sent, New Jersey State Police Sgt. Mike Davis told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the command center .

“We’re watching how quickly they can get people out there to predetermined places,” Davis said, moments after the alert was issued. “This way, if the real thing happens, we’ll be able to cast a net of detection.

“Once we pushed the button, it was up to Bergen County to deploy assets in the field. All we told them was that something was coming in eastern Bergen. They had to get to the deployment points immediately. We monitored them through our communications system,” based at the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center (“The ROIC”) in West Trenton.

You wouldn’t have known what was happening, even if you’d walked right by one of the officers involved. They were parked in public lots, by the side of the road and elsewhere, testing handheld detectors of radioactive materials.

“The object is to keep as low-key as possible while taking up positions at predetermined key chokepoints,” Davis said at the academy while the drill was continuing.

The invisible exercise was the last held in seven New Jersey counties this week, beginning Monday, under the federal Secure the Cities initiative. In addition to New York, those cities include Jersey City and Camden.

NJ State Police Sgt. Mike Davis



Although authorities had warned of rapid deployments of large numbers of uniformed officers, Davis told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that officials agreed the holiday season wasn’t the time to make life worse for those trying to make their way through already-choked roads.

On the other hand, the 22-year State Police veteran said, “if something were to REALLY happen out there, you’d know about it.”

Davis and others will spend the next several weeks doing a “hot wash” review of the drills and preparing detailed reports on what worked and what didn’t for the seven counties — including more than 90 individual law enforcement agencies — that participate in New Jersey’s Urban Area Security Initiative.

Off the top, the sergeant said, he discovered that training in the technological lingo needs immediate attention. He’s thinking it could be done effectively and inexpensively through an online course.

“There were cases this week where people weren’t familiar with the terminology,” Davis told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Radiation is a whole new world in policing. Someone unfamiliar with the information could get something wrong.

“It’s not a major problem, but it could be.”

Overall, however, Davis said he was extremely pleased.

“Is there room for improvement? There’s always room for improvement,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “If we were called right now to deploy our assets, we’d be ready, without creating a financial impact.”

The drills were the third leg in a four-year effort to coordinate emergency services in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — basically, the “net” around Manhattan.

The first stage involved developing standard operating procedures, Davis told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . During the second, the state obtained the necessary detectors and other equipment. This week, the regional participants tested the system.

Memorandums of understanding have been signed among 13 principal partners in the federally funded program, including the NJSP‘s Emergency Management Office, the NYPD, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and NJ Transit, who Davis singled out as a significant contributor.

The sergeant said he hopes similar agreements can be reached with prosecutors in all of the seven New Jersey counties that participate — Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic, Morris, Union and Middlesex.

From there, Davis said, State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes is hoping to “build out” to all 21 counties in New Jersey.

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