The PATH train station located below One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial were the focus of a simulated crisis last week at TEEX’s Emergency Operations Training Center (EOTC). The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey brought 47 first responders and emergency management officials to College Station, Texas, to participate in an incident management exercise as part of its preparation for the 10th anniversary and opening of the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center.
The Memorial will be dedicated and opened to the public on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On Sept. 12, the public may visit the Memorial with a reserved visitor pass. Millions of visitors are expected the first year.
“The people here (at the EOTC) this week are the leaders who would be working with the Port Authority during an incident,” said Brian Lacey, Director of the Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management. “This exercise brings together 16 agencies, working together as a team in preparation of a major incident, and allows them to get rid of any prejudices and any mistakes they might make.”
Besides visitors to the 9/11 Memorial each day, One World Trade Center, and other buildings in the area are under construction with 3,000 to 5,000 workers onsite 24/7, he said. “That’s a lot of people to protect, plus about 50,000 riders each day on the PATH station underground. And adjacent to the Memorial is the busiest intersection in New York City, at Church Street and Vessey,” he added.
The Port Authority of NY & NJ is responsible for safety and security at the World Trade Center property, but in case of a large incident, would rely on mutual aid from a wide variety of organizations, many of which were represented at the EOTC exercise. “These groups have gone back and spread the word about our training and exercise model,” Lacey said. “New Jersey Transit and Metropolitan Transportation Authority have adopted this model.”
Representing one of the partnering agencies at the Incident Command System (ICS) training exercise was Daniel Donoghue, Deputy Chief of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), 3rd Division, Midtown Manhattan. “I wasn’t sure what to expect this week. I’m comfortable in a command role, but then I worked in planning and logistics,” he said. “It has taken me out of my comfort zone, but it has been interesting and useful. We’re learning the process.”
“This training is about how to operate in a high-profile, large incident. This training is extremely valuable because it allows us to work with numerous city agencies, something we do not often get the chance to do. For example, we’ve been able to discuss real-life questions relating to a mass-casualty incident with the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Department of Health, as well as talking to the Port Authority. The networking is great; we’re making contacts and learning what other agencies can contribute.”
“For these jurisdiction rotations, we respond to an “incident” on our own terrain, and we create an event that could really happen,” said Jim Munday, Senior Manager of Emergency Readiness for the Port Authority. “Last year, a short time after we completed the full-scale exercise at the Newark Liberty International Airport, we had the scare of a bomb in a FedEx package. Because of our training, our response at the Newark Airport went extremely well.”
“So far, we’ve had seven rotations with TEEX, and it’s been a tremendous experience,” Munday added. “We bring a cohort group of people from our region. They are working together as a team, and they will go back and continue this with some drills and orientations and a full-scale exercise, following the HSEEP (Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program) model. It’s really beneficial because it’s better to meet people in a learning environment than it is to meet for the first time onsite at a major incident. This is the model for the United States. It is the model we’re using and now other agencies have been copying. We’re taking a methodical approach, and we’ve had tremendous success.”
Lacey agreed: “My office has partnered with TEEX for several years doing these jurisdictional rotations. I’ve been very impressed. I think it’s a great program. It’s tough economic times, but my chain of command couldn’t be more supportive of what we’re doing. We’re able to use federal grant funding and leverage it for our mutual aid partners as well.”
The Port Authority also plans to hold an exercise involving JFK Airport at the EOTC in May, Munday said, adding that future exercises will likely involve the George Washington Bridge, the Jersey City Transportation Center, and LaGuardia Airport.
The Port Authority has 7,000 employees and operates five airports, two tunnels, four bridges, the Ports of New Jersey and New York and 13 stations on the PATH lines, as well as property at the World Trade Center.