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Homeland Security troopers run drills at NJ train stations

(The following story by Alex Zdan appeared on the New Jersey Times website on September 24, 2010.)

TRENTON, N.J. — Commuters at the Trenton, Hamilton and Princeton Junction train stations yesterday morning may have noticed a heavy presence from the New Jersey State Police on platforms, parking lots and in waiting rooms.

This display of "significant force" was an exercise that brings troopers from the Homeland Security branch to some of the state's potential terrorist targets, said Lt. Col Jerome Hatfield, the section's commander.

"What we realize is mass transit is a significant threat in the nation, and it's an even greater threat here," he said.

About a dozen troopers were sent to each station, including uniformed and plainclothes officers, K-9 handlers, hazmat units, and TEAMS, the agency's SWAT-style tactical group. Helicopters from the aviation unit flew overhead.

Known as threat details, the drills give troopers advance knowledge of the places they may be seeing if disaster strikes.

"It gives us intimate visibility in the areas we'd be responding to in the event something happens," Hatfield said.

The exercise began just before 7 a.m. and lasted about two hours. The three stations were chosen because they sit along the "critical" Northeast Corridor NJ Transit line, Hatfield said.

Troopers had some warning the drill was going to proceed, but the deployment was also a test of logistics and speed.

"Typically, what we'd like to do is we'd like to come in, set up our capabilities, educate the citizenry, do a debrief, and shut down, and this can happen in as little as three hours," Hatfield said.

"So I'd say in many cases there are unique challenges, whether it's proximity, it's logistics, it's all kinds of different things," he added.

Besides assessing vulnerabilities and flooding the area with manpower, the state police also want to educate the public. Some commuters were given pamphlets with information about security measures.

"So to us, it's an aggressive exercise start that puts us in the public eye, and at the same time puts us in some sort of contact with the public," Hatfield said.

Members of the public were receptive to the exercise, he said.

"I think the commuters, not only are they sensitive to the capabilities of the state police, I think they feel secure knowing at any given time there could be a saturation of state police that can come in," Hatfield said.

Threat details are conducted around the state by the agency's 600-member Homeland Security detail. Targets include train stations, malls, airports, ferries, and other high-profile areas.

Friday, September 24, 2010

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