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Portland Picked as Site for Terror Exercise

by Andy Giegerich, The Business Journal of Portland
MSNBC, March 6, 2005

The national lens will focus on Portland's streets, bridges and port as the region serves as a major Homeland Security test laboratory in May 2007.

The Department of Homeland Security has chosen Portland and Phoenix as the two sites for "TopOff 4," a shorthand term for tests that ascertain ways that top federal, state and local officials handle major security-breaching events.

The designation means that several drills -- testing preparedness for attacks involving biological, radiological and various explosives -- could occur in and around Portland, said Miguel Ascarrunz, the city's Office of Emergency Management director.

The Homeland Security Department has yet to determine exactly which tests will occur in Portland.

It selects only two test sites each year -- 15 cities applied for the 2007 program. Former Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski had applied to DHS in early 2004 to serve as a test site.

The test-site designation still requires formal go-aheads from Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Kulongoski. Ascarrunz said his office may need to seek state and local funds to accommodate the tests; federal grants will contribute at least some of the necessary money, he said.

"The ball is in our court," he said. "It's a lot of work, there's a lot of funding that's thrown at it, but it's good in that it will foster relations between federal and local emergency response systems."

Ascarrunz said the TopOff 2 exercise held in King County in 2003 cost the Seattle area some $1.5 million. Oregon hopes to fund the drills with various Homeland Security grants targeted for local exercises, as well as corporate donors. The feds will also pay for various planning costs -- including flying officials to and lodging them in Washington, D.C. to discuss preparations for the event -- and provide five staffers who'll work on the project's Portland logistics.

The state has received an estimated $30 million over the past few years in Homeland Security monies for equipment and smaller-scale exercises.

John Doussard, a spokesman for Potter, said his office "is very excited about the whole thing, and won't do anything to impede it."

Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kulongoski, said the upcoming test-site announcement pleased the governor.

"It's an opportunity for the city and state to collaborate and assure that policies and systems we have in place can respond to any terrorism or bioterrorism threats," Taylor said. "It's also a great opportunity for us to offer something that will help other states learn from us, to see what we've done is successful and identify what we need to do to be as prepared as possible."

Portland is also still awaiting an official letter from Homeland Security officials confirming its selection as the TopOff 4 site. Ascarrunz was in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with department leaders to discuss Portland's logistics.

The tests involve hundreds of senior-level federal officials, and will include heavy input from the Department of Homeland Security Administrator Michael Chertoff, Ascarrunz said.

Ascarrunz wants Oregon's business community to provide key input as the region develops its plans.

"I'd like to engage the business community as much as possible," he said. "For example, with this year's exercise, Wal-Mart is going to activate its command centers throughout the country. So we'd like to involve as much of the private sector as possible."

In Portland itself, Ascarrunz said the exercise might encompass drills in downtown, at the Oregon Convention Center, around the city's various bridges and at a port site.

The city has lately received attention on the Homeland Security front for various officials' reluctance to renew the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Seattle served as a TopOff 2 site in 2003. The city was "hit" with a "dirty bomb," or explosives coupled with radioactive material.

Portland officials will travel to Connecticut and New Jersey in April to observe the 2005 TopOff event. Those tests will study how well a complex terrorist campaign plays throughout the Homeland Security system, then determine an appropriate national response.

During the five days of tests in Connecticut and New Jersey, fire departments will conduct search-and-rescue exercises, hospitals will determine how to treat "injured" citizens and governmental types will devise decision-making processes.

Ascarrunz said his department will devote four full-time officers to work on the 2007 program. He also wants to enlist law enforcement agencies from throughout the state, as well as Clark County, Wash., to help prepare for the Homeland Security tests.

Ascarrunz added that the Portland-area tests could examine whether the country's cybernetworks are secure. If so, the Portland-based Regional Alliances for Infrastructure and Network Security, or RAINS, could play a role in any of the 2007 exercises, he said.

"TopOff will bring a major opportunity for national visibility to Portland, and create a complete convergence of federal, state and local security and defense-related agencies around this exercise," said Charles Jennings, CEO of Swan Island Networks and chairman of RAINS. "We're excited about this exercise and very much looking forward to it."

Andy Giegerich, The Business Journal of Portland
Portland Picked as Site for Terror Exercise
MSNBC, March 6, 2005

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