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Police practice derailing terror threats

(The following article by Tom Feeney was posted on the Newark Star-Ledger website on December 10.)

NEWARK, N.J. -- State, county and local police fanned out to dozens of train stations in northern New Jersey yesterday to test their ability to respond to a catastrophic terror attack.

The officers, members of a regional rapid deployment force, drilled as if it were the day after a terrorist's bomb had killed scores of riders on an NJ Transit train and injured hundreds of others. More than 150 officers were deployed during the evening rush to 50 rail and light rail stations in Essex, Union, Morris, Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties.

Had the police officers been responding to a real attack, their mission at the stations would have been to make sure no other threats were present and to assure commuters the rails were safe to ride, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Richard L. Canas said during a news conference at Newark Penn Station.

The drill was designed to test how well the different agencies communicated and whether they were able to deploy police officers effectively, Canas said.

"This exercise gives us a real-world test of our notification and response capabilities," said NJ Transit Police Chief Joseph C. Bober.

The rapid deployment force is coordinated through a federally funded program called the Urban Area Security Initiative. More than 1,000 police officers from 130 different agencies participate.

The UASI program in New Jersey has received $97.5 million in federal funding since the program began in 2003. More than $8 million of that has been used to train and equip the rapid deployment force.

The state's 2006 UASI appropriation of $34.3 million was fifth largest in the nation behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

"Our primary focus is on inner-operability, on the ability of workers from all these different agencies to communicate and work together during a terrorist attack or a natural disaster," Canas said. "When this drill is done, we'll sit down and evaluate how well we did that."

NJ Transit posted customer alerts so that commuters would not be alarmed by the increased police presence at many train stations last night.

The exercise did not disrupt train or light rail service.

Monday, December 11, 2006

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