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New Orleans Terrorism Response Drill in Review

The U.S. Coast Guard and various law enforcement agencies today will review in detail a maritime anti-terrorism exercise in New Orleans that engaged hundreds of emergency responders who have a stake in protecting more than 230 miles of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico.

Response to the fake, two-prong terrorist attack a chemical spill and the bombing of a boat transporting sightseers from Audubon Zoo to the Aquarium of the Americas "went very well," said Cheri Ben-Iesau, a senior investigator for the Coast Guard, which sponsored the event.

Ben-Iesau, though, said emergency responders were surprised when the wind didn't come from the expected direction and that rescues took longer than expected.

"The real assessment will come (today) when we sit down with the hot wash the more intensive review of the performance," she said.

The review is a culmination of a three-day exercise to test emergency response to maritime security incidents.

The first day dealt with intelligence gathering and testing communications systems.

Day Two, which involved rescuing victims of a mock bombing, was a curiosity for the neighborhoods around the zoo on Magazine Street and for people who police kept from visiting the Fly, the green space behind the zoo where the mock exercise took place.

For those responsible for dealing with terrorist threats, the annual exercise was an opportunity to test the ability of about 30 government agencies and industry interests, including hospitals, Shell Chemicals Norco and port operations, to work together during a crisis, officials said.

"That's a huge part of these drills," Ben-Iesau said. "No one works in a vacuum anymore."

"Whenever something really happens, it won't be the first time they've met each other and they'll know the capabilities of each player," she continued.

State police, local police, sheriff's deputies, three hospitals, FBI agents, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Coast Guard workers, fire department officials, emergency medical services workers and representatives from emergency operations centers from five parishes were among the diverse group.

On Thursday, responders also pulled out some of their best anti-terrorism tools: a remote-controlled device for detecting hazardous materials; an armed Coast Guard cutter; bomb-sniffing dogs; the New Orleans Police Department's Lenco B.E.A.R. a ballistic engineered armored response vehicle designed to shield law-enforcement workers as they negotiate or engage in firefights in a lethal environment; and a state-of-the-art communications boat that can serve as a command center.

Leslie Williams can be reached at lwilliams@timespicayune.com or at (504) 826-3358.

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