The federal government may have been shut down, but that didn't stop an alphabet soup of local, state and federal agencies from participating in the "Vessel Standoff Detection Federal, State, Local and Tribal Day" on Oct. 9.
The day's activities, arranged by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, brought representatives from more than a dozen agencies together for one of their quarterly exercises, part of an ongoing effort to provide a better means of responding to the threat of nuclear materials being brought into the U.S. via the Puget Sound.
The recent exercise provided dozens of firefighters, police officers and federal agents with an opportunity to conduct simulated on-the-water radiation detection screening missions.
Anchored platforms were placed in Sequim Bay, each with a small cache of radioactive materials.
Participants aboard a dozen or more boats took turns approaching the platforms where they ran through the entire screening process, including interviewing the "boat captain," played by another participant in the drill.
The list of participants included personnel from Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI, plus representatives from local agencies across the Puget Sound region, including the Seattle Fire Department, the Bainbridge Island Police and — among the newest of the members — the Clallam County Sheriff's Office.
The assistance of all is necessary, said PNNL Maritime Project Manager Bill Peterson.
He noted that in the past the nation's maritime security efforts have focused on large commercial vessels. The Department of Homeland Security is now addressing the risks posed by small vessels.
Peterson said the federal resources available for the task are far too limited to provide oversight of the entire Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. When intelligence indicates a possible threat, the feds turn to the partner agencies to help seek out the materiel.
"Regional screening assets double the operational hours and enhance the encounter/boarding numbers six-fold," Peterson said.
He added that the agencies gather quarterly "due to the perishable nature of the skill set."
The participating agencies also need the help of the public. Officials with Homeland Security encourage anyone who sees "any suspicious activity on or near the water" to call the National Response Center at 877-249-2824.