Teamwork key to successful mine countermeasures exercise

BOSTON – During a carefully planned and executed command post exercise, a team of federal authorities worked to thwart a simulated terror plot in Portsmouth, N.H., this week.

Members of the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigations and Customs and Border Protection participated in the exercise, called Frontier Sentinel, on Dec. 10 through 12. Canadian Navy Mine Countermeasures Specialists from Joint Task Forces Atlantic, local emergency responders and law enforcement officials also participated.

The scenario included an underwater mine explosion at the mouth of the PiscataquaRiver that severely damaged an outbound container ship and the discovery of improvised explosive devices planted on the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth. The Frontier Sentinel exercise’s objective was to practice, evaluate and recommend improvements for multi-agency responses to maritime security threats with a focus on under water mine detection and countermeasures.

Exercise planners chose this area because of the unique challenges it offers. The port is home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and a host of key industrial facilities, many of which are vital to the New England energy infrastructure. The fast tidal currents, limited underwater visibility, and complex underwater bathometry in the area also added to the complexity of the exercise.

In response to the dangers posed by the scenario, the unified command considered the safety of the public and subsequently simulated the closing of the Piscataqua River to all marine traffic as well as the closure of all three major bridges along the river. Under the leadership of the Coast Guard Captain of the Port, Capt. Jim Rendon, navy mine counter measures specialists were brought in from around the country as well as from Halifax Nova Scotia to forge a Unified Command. The response was based out of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ offices in Portsmouth.

“When making decisions as a unified command, we need to ensure that all agencies involved are mentally and operationally aligned,” said Capt. Rendon, commander of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, and Captain of the Port for the region. “This exercise gave us a prime opportunity to do that.”

Capt. Jeff Carlson of the U.S. Navy’s Mine and Anti-Sub Warfare division also highlighted this need to forge a close partnership, stating that “our objective is the same as the Captain of the Port’s, which is to determine the safest routes in and out of the port as quickly as possible”

A follow up Full Scale exercise, which will include the deployment of mine counter measure equipment and opportunities for full port partner participation, is scheduled to take place in Portsmouth in June, 2008.

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