Tuesday, June 2, 2009

three-day emergency response exercise

ALBANY — More than 550 first responders from State, federal and local governments, and hospital/health-care workers from over 30 federal, New York State and local agencies in Albany and Rensselaer Counties will participate beginning today in an intensive, three-day emergency response exercise in the capital region.

This comprehensive, coordinated response is one of the largest drills of its kind to be conducted in New York State .

The entire exercise, known as Empire 09, spans two months and began May 14, with a two-day facilitated drill in Albany . Today’s exercise will help officials from all levels of government respond to a frightening, but realistic scenario in the capital region – the detonation of a “dirty bomb,” known more accurately in the response world as a Radiological Dispersal Device. The third phase of the exercise – long-term recovery and cleanup – will be conducted in a facilitated exercise setting in Albany on June 16.

“Exercises like this one being held this week in the capital region are critically important because they allow us to test the functionality, capability and responsiveness of every government agency tasked with the responsibility of keeping New Yorkers safe during a disaster, whether it is man-made or natural,” said Denise E. O’Donnell, Governor Paterson’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety.

“First responders will be able to enhance their skills, identify and correct any weaknesses in the system and further enhance interagency partnerships that are crucial to ensuring that when disaster strikes, New York is ready,” O'Donnell said. “I want to commend the members of the state’s Disaster Preparedness Commission for their stewardship of this important initiative and extend thanks, on behalf of all New Yorkers, to the more than 550 first responders and health care workers who are participating in this drill today and work every day to serve and protect their neighbors.”

Mayor Gerald D. Jennings said, “The events of 9/11 made it imperative that at all levels we look at our ability to respond in the event of a catastrophic emergency. Our ability to respond in the most efficient and timely manner is integral to minimizing the impact to our citizens and maximizing our ability to deliver critical services. Exercises like Empire 09 provide an excellent training ground to test the countless hours that have been put in at the Federal, State and local level in emergency preparedness.”

Albany County Executive Mike Breslin said, “We welcome the opportunity Empire 09 affords us to test the response and recovery plans we have in place with our local, state and federal government agencies. Sheriff Jim Campbell, Dr. Jim Crucetti, Commissioner of our County Health Department, and I have worked tirelessly over the years to ensure a swift and effective response by Albany County agencies to protect our citizens during any incident.”

Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino said, “Protecting the public’s safety is a core responsibility of government. Rensselaer County is a proud partner in this exercise that will undoubtedly help us ensure the safety of our residents if a disaster or attack of this nature should occur.”

The exercise is hosted by the state through the state Disaster Preparedness Commission and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy / National Nuclear Security Administration. Because of the complexity of Empire 09, the Federal Department of Homeland Security’s National Exercise Program has designated it as a Tier II National Level Exercise.

Principal exercise locations include the State Emergency Operations Center (on the Harriman State Office Campus), the NYS Department of Health Operations Center in Menands, DOE/NNSA’s Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC) at the Albany County Hockey Facility, and a number of environmental sampling and population monitoring sites.

John R. Gibb, director of the New York State Emergency Management Office and chairman of the DPC, said, “Empire 09 is an excellent opportunity for us to test the plans and procedures we have in place and the years of training our first responders have received. It also affords us the opportunity to cement our relationship with the Department of Energy and other federal agencies to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect our citizens in the event of a real attack.”

Thomas G. Donlon, director of the state Office of Homeland Security, said, “This exercise demonstrates the State’s continuing commitment to be prepared to prevent, respond and recover from potential acts of terrorism. Police, fire, health analysts, logisticians and the Office of Homeland Security must remain vigilant and be ready to respond. This massive drill will measure our resources and capabilities.”

The exercise scenario – the terrorist RDD attack in New York ’s Capital City of Albany – involves the uncontrolled release of radiological material to test and evaluate response plans and procedures from the time it occurs through the cleanup process. The exercise will simulate the detonation of dirty bombs and will test out how multiple levels of government will work together to determine the chemical makeup of the bomb, immediate impact on public health, assess the extent and magnitude of the release on potentially affected populations and environments, determine protective actions, how to prevent further spread of the radiological materials, and restore critical infrastructure and key resources.

A “dirty bomb” is one type of RDD that uses a conventional explosion to disperse radioactive material over a targeted area. The term dirty bomb and RDD are often used interchangeably in technical literature. However, RDDs could also include other means of dispersal such as placing a container of radioactive material in a public place, or using an airplane to disperse powdered or aerosolized forms of radioactive material.

Homeland Security officials acknowledge that it is very difficult to design an RDD that would deliver radiation doses high enough to cause immediate health effects or fatalities in a large number of people. Therefore, experts generally agree that an RDD would more likely be used to contaminate facilities or places where people live and work, disrupting lives and livelihoods and would potentially also cause anxiety in those who think they are being, or have been exposed.

This Friday through Sunday, the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs will conduct a Defense Support to Civil Authorities exercise that is designed as a follow-on to Empire 09 in order to test the "tiered response" system in which Army and Air National Guard units follow after first responders deal with an emergency.

This exercise will test the ability of the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia to receive, process, and house National Guard troops from around

New York responding to an emergency in the Capital Region.

The National Guard’s 2nd Civil Support Team, the CERF-P, the CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) Enhanced Response Force Package, and the Joint Interagency Site Communications System will be tested in an exercise that takes place at the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) Urban Search and Rescue Center in the Capital District Area of New York. The exercise will be based on a CBRNE event.

National Guard forces will flow into Stratton ANGB on Friday, exercise at the Urban Search and

Rescue Center on Saturday, and then return home on Sunday. This will be a "drill weekend" for those Guard elements.

Participating agencies in Empire 09 include:

State Government

Office of the Governor, State Departments of Agriculture and Markets, Environmental Conservation, Education, Health, Labor, and Transportation; State Offices of Emergency Management, Homeland Security, Fire Prevention & Control, and General Services; State Divisions of State Police, and Military & Naval Affairs.

Albany and Rensselaer Counties

Albany County’s Critical Incident Emergency Management Unit, Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Albany County Health Department, City of Albany Fire and Police Departments, Office of the Mayor of Albany, Albany County Airport Authority, Rensselaer County Public Safety Department, Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office, Rensselaer County Health Department, Albany Medical Center.

Federal government

U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, DOD Defense Threat Reduction Agency, United States Northern Command, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.