COLLEGE STATION – The George Washington Bridge, connecting Fort Lee, NJ, and Manhattan, was the focus of a simulated explosion and shooting recently in an incident management exercise at the Emergency Operations Training Center, which is operated by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).
The realistic exercise in unified command and emergency management of a large-scale incident by multiple response agencies was tailored specifically for The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, using actual maps and available resources found on location.
This was a nightmare scenario for the Port Authority’s Robert Durando, General Manager of the George Washington Bridge and Bus Station. But that was the way he wanted it.
“TEEX spent a considerable amount of time to make this as realistic as possible, and they succeeded,” Durando said. “This is a great facility and really a top-shelf operation. I’m receiving exemplary compliments from everyone here.”
The George Washington Bridge scenario is the latest of several exercises designed for the Port Authority by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to practice interagency response protocols. Each program is developed through many months of planning meetings and tabletop exercises conducted by the Port Authority with assistance from TEEX, and culminates in a full-scale exercise at the actual facility.
“The feedback we had received from the previous bus terminal training exercise in 2011 was positive,” Durando said. “We thought that coming here for a drill would help us better understand what other capabilities are available that are not part of the Port Authority. We’re here with the people who would respond with us to a real incident.”
Durando was joined by about 50 first responders and emergency management officials who traveled to College Station, Texas, to rehearse for the real deal. About 15 participants were from the Port Authority, Durando said, and the others came from area police and fire departments, EMS, the FBI and non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross.
“We’re the operations group,” he added. “It would help if the management team and support staff could be here as well and understand this. It would expose them to the front lines of response. Most of the Port Authority personnel here are serving in roles that get them out of their comfort level, so it provides cross-training and a better appreciation of those other roles. But most of all, it helps for us to play in the same sandbox with those who would respond with us.”
The recent EOTC training exercise was funded by a federal grant at no cost to the agencies participating. A full-scale, on-site exercise at the George Washington Bridge is planned for later this year.
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.