Coast Guard, Federal, State, Local Industry Conduct AMSTEP Exercise in Valdez

VALDEZ, Alaska – The Coast Guard in cooperation with federal, state, local and industry partners conducted an area maritime security drill in Valdez today. The purpose of the drill is to allow the agencies to interface and test their ability to respond to a security incident in Valdez.

The exercise is part of the nationwide Area Maritime Security Training and Exercise Program (AMSTEP). This full-scale exercise was conducted to improve the effectiveness of the area maritime security plan that has been drafted by federal, state, local and industry representatives as a framework for how to respond to a security incident.

During the drill Coast Guard, FBI, Alaska Self Defense Force, Alaska Marine Highway System, Alyeska Pipeline, Civil Air Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, Petro Star, Tesoro. Valdez airport, police and port participants responded to exercise information regarding over two years of intelligence gathering and a terrorist threat to the port of Valdez. Because it was a terrorism geared exercise the FBI was the lead agency. The exercise tested participants ability to use their resources and take two year’s worth of seemingly unrelated criminal activity and minor events to identify a growing threat and prevent harm to critical Alaska infrastructure.

In response to a simulated credible threat the Coast Guard raised the Maritime Security Level from I to II and then III in the Port of Valdez. As part of those increased security measures the Coast Guard verified that the industry was complying with their own pre-approved facility security plans and went through the motions of shutting down operations in the port.

“The industry is very proactive here,” said Commanding Officer of Marine Safety Unit Valdez, Cmdr. Darryl Verifallie. “In response to intelligence they received the industry implemented their increased security measures before we even raised the MARSEC level. Their support and presence here to practice these scenarios shows a real dedication to the safety and security of the public, safety, security and Alaska interests.”

The lessons learned from these exercises impact not only Alaska but also the whole nation. In early 2002 Congress examined 361 public ports to assess their vulnerability to breaches within the National Maritime Security (NIMS). Congress found that these ports handled over 95 percent of U.S. overseas trade and the top 50 ports accounted for 90 percent of all cargo tonnage.

In addition these ports tended to be very open and exposed to the public with high capacity passenger vessels transporting over 113 million passengers and 32 million vehicles per year.

As a result these ports were susceptible to large-scale acts of terrorism. With this in mind Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002 in order to prepare the nation’s ports to deter future acts of terrorism.

Under MTSA ports are mandated to conduct annual training exercises to respond to anticipated security threats. These exercises must meet two or more major objectives and test the Area Maritime Security Plan (AMSP) of each port.

This exercise allows the participants to familiarize themselves with their plans in a hands-on manner and develop lasting relationships with their partners. These relationships strengthen the team and prevent confusion later. It allows holes and issues in the plan to be identified and improved upon.

Ultimately the team’s efforts will continue to make the Port of Valdez a smarter, stronger and safer port.

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