NORAD, NORTHCOM Simulate Scenarios, Respond in Real Time
American Forces Press Service
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Feb. 20, 2004 A major hurricane, a nuclear accident and a nuclear detonation -- all simulated, and all occurring in Texas -- are among the challenges facing U.S. Northern Command forces during exercise Unified Defense '04.
Simulated events also include aircraft hijackings, threats from a fictitious country testing its strategic capabilities, and attacks on maritime and port security by domestic terrorists in Alaska.
Though the attacks are all simulated, the responses are "real-world," said Army Lt. Col. Tim Croft, a NORTHCOM exercise planner. He said some 50 different local, state and federal agencies in Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., are participating in the Feb. 19-25 exercise. The exercise is testing homeland defense and homeland security efforts, along with NORTHCOM's ability to provide military assistance to civil authorities, he said.
North American Aerospace Defense Command also is participating in a scenario that poses aerospace defense challenges, said Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Peterson, a NORAD exercise planner.
In announcing the exercise Feb. 17, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he hopes and prays that his state never faces a real disaster like the ones simulated. "But if these kinds of catastrophic events do occur, officials need to be prepared to respond," said Perry.
Although exercise participants were briefed in advance about the scenarios, they were not told every detail. For example, participants must determine if the nuclear incidents in Texas are the result of terrorist attacks or an accident, Croft said. The simulated hurricane is providing cover and diversion for a terrorist attack.
Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry's office who attended a pre-exercise briefing in Texas, raised one question facing homeland defense. She wondered whether terrorists would look for natural disasters likely to occur and then try to time events to coincide with a community or state's response to a natural disaster.
The nuclear detonation scenario simulated killing 300 people and affecting nearly 1,000 residents in a town of only 3,700 people. Croft said this is the first time the Homeland Security Department and NORTHCOM have included a nuclear detonation in an exercise.
Since most exercise activities are being simulated, residents in the exercise areas will not see troop movements, hear flying aircraft, or see and hear emergency vehicles responding to accident sites. The one exception will be in Alaska, where Coast Guard vessels will be visible in the water, but there won't be "any big bangs or anything like that," said Coast Guard Lt. Brad Wilson. He said the public would see little activity.
Military and state planners spent almost a year planning the $1.5 million exercise in which Texas and Alaska officials asked to be included, said Croft. He said the states wanted to test their emergency management functions.
Rod Swope, city manager for Juneau, Alaska, told local news reporters he expects his state to learn a lot from the exercise. "In the event something happens (in the future), we'll be prepared," said Swope.
Besides finding out how federal, state and local agencies will react to simultaneous emergencies, Unified Defense '04 also will allow NORTHCOM forces to get to know one another "and improve our success rate if there should be a real-world event," said Mike Perini, NORAD and NORTHCOM public affairs director. He said if it were possible, the command would conduct similar exercises in all U.S. states and territories.
(Based on a news release from Northern Command Public Affairs Office.)