By GREGORY ZELLER //
Pay no attention to that imposing fleet of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard and New York State Naval Militia vessels massing off the East End.
Governor Andrew Cuomo wants you to know that the sudden buildup of maritime forces – and the presence of some 100 personnel from 23 local, state and federal agencies, many specializing in radiological detection – is proactive, not reactive.
Cuomo’s office on Wednesday announced the start of “Operation Blue Trident,” a multi-agency training exercise focused not only on radiological detection, but navigational boating safety, marine fisheries compliance and environmental monitoring.
The weeklong operation is designed to get the East End’s ducks in a row, in case of an actually emergency. And while residents and summer tourists are “urged to be aware that this is only an exercise,” as per the governor’s office, there’s no doubting the training’s critical significance, according to Cuomo, who stressed the importance of being “fully prepared to handle any crisis that threatens the wellbeing of New Yorkers.”
“Long Island is a vital gateway to the New York Metropolitan area,” the governor noted. “Preparedness, organization and coordination are key in any emergency response, and this exercise will help ensure that New York is ready and able to deal with anything that threatens our heath, environment or security.”
The full-scale exercise, led by state Department of Environmental Conservation officers with support from the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, is based on federal Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program guidelines and marks a first for eastern Long Island.
Some 24 vessels will be deployed at various locations around the East End, supporting roughly 50 DEC police and civilian support staff – plus another 50 agents representing more than 20 local, state and federal agencies – engaged in radiological inspections, water-quality studies and maritime-law enforcement efforts.
State and federal agencies participating in Blue Trident include the Federal Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Long Island, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Office of Counter Terrorism, a function of the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, among others.
Counter-terrorism specialists from the New York State Police and also slated to join in, joining officers from the New York Park Police, the Nassau and Suffolk county police departments and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.
The East End Marine Task Force – combining resources from local police departments in East Hampton, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, Sag Harbor, Shelter Island, Westhampton and Quogue – is also slated to raise anchor.
The seaborne exercises actually comprise Phase 2 of a larger training operation. Phase 1, conducted Aug. 2-16, was a landlocked water-quality initiative designed to identify and remove threats to Long Island waterways.
Officials from the DEC’s Region 1 Spills Response Unit joined the Coast Guard and the Suffolk County Health Department during Phase 1 inspections of marinas and other onshore maritime facilities, checking sewage-discharge regulatory compliance and the bulk storage of petroleum and pesticides.
Phase 2, running through Aug. 19, focuses on “structured homeland security/radiological training in actual maritime operations,” including protocols for foreign vessel interdiction and water-quality compliance, Cuomo’s office said.
The DEC and the Suffolk County PD will also conduct “tactical weapons of mass destruction training,” designed to “enhance the skills needed to intercept illicit radiological materials in rapidly emerging situations,” according to the governor’s office. And the East End Task Force will partner with other agencies to conduct OP SHIELD activities throughout the weekend, focused on navigational safety and boating-while-impaired enforcement.
The DEC has coordinated similar joint-training exercises on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, but Blue Trident is a Long Island first – and for a 118-mile Island that provides an international maritime route-of-entry to Long Island Sound and the New York City metropolitan area, it’s a critically important innovation, according to state DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
“DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers … are the first line of defense in protecting New York’s environment, our natural resources and public health,” Seggos said in a statement. “I commend our staff for coordinating this important training on Long Island and bringing together all partners for this vital emergency-preparedness exercise.”
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, a candidate for Suffolk County district attorney this November, called Blue Trident “an important and comprehensive joint-training exercise” that will involve the SCPD’s Emergency Services, Homeland Security, Marine, Aviation and Highway Patrol bureaus.
“This additional collaboration of intensive training between our department and our partners in local, regional and federal law enforcement will further prepare us for the call-to-action in the event of manmade or natural disaster,” Sini said.