Emergency responders hone skills in Homeland Security drill
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent August 28, 2013 6:32PM
Indiana Homeland Secutiry District 1 first responders make an amphibious landing at the Port of Indiana during a readiness drill on Wednesday, August 28, 2013. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 30, 2013 7:44AM
A massive training drill Wednesday at Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor involved emergency responders from five counties comprising the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 1 office:
This was the scenario: Portage police are called to investigate suspicious activity observed by port security personnel. On arrival they discover four suspects wearing protective masks. The masks signal something out of the ordinary and the police immediately call for additional support from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said he came up with the scenario at a District 1 task force advance planning exercise. In Wednesday’s exercise, Portage officers were placed in a supporting role even though they have their own tactical team.
“The port is a high-visibility target so it’s important to train there,” Williams said.
Operation Safe Harbor is designed to test and train responding agencies in proper communication and notification, site security and use of special teams. The planning has been under way for several months, according to Joseph Kruzan, chief of the Schererville Fire Department and public information officer for IDHS District 1.
“We train for disaster so personnel will be ready in the event it does occur. They will be ready to put their training into action,” Kruzan said.
These exercises — “civilian war games” — are carefully orchestrated events conducted several times per year. A similar exercise was carried out in May at Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary.
“These are designed to learn from, to identify strengths and weaknesses,” said Kruzan, to keep “our first responders prepared to protect the citizens of Northwest Indiana.”
These drills do more than just train emergency responders in weapons and tactics, they allow personnel from different agencies to get to know each other so when a true emergency arises, they can work immediately as a team.
“We want to develop a working relationship with as many people as we can,” Williams said.
In this exercise, the first responders notice the suspects wearing protective gear, which places the situation outside the range of a routine burglary.
“If something doesn’t look right, make a call,” is what first responders are being trained to do, Kruzan said.
“When local responders realize the situation is bigger than they can handle, they need to call for extra support,” noted Kruzan.
“If we need assistance, we’re not afraid to call,” said Williams.
In this case the extra support included two Lake County helicopters, boats, a Michigan City SWAT team vehicle and dozens of officers from around the region dressed in protective gear and facemasks.
Portage police officers are crouched behind trees, weapons ready, to maintain a protective perimeter around the decrepit building where the four suspects are believed to be hiding.
A boat roars into the harbor. Several SWAT team members swarm ashore, jumping aboard two vehicles waiting to take them to a staging area to await orders.
Several other heavily armed officers are ferried by helicopter to a field south of the building.
A radio crackles out: “Kilo team inserted. Helicopter on the go,” and moments later, “All units execute, execute, execute.”
The building is soon surrounded, stormed, and suspects captured. No high-fives for a successfully completed mission though, it’s time to perform the exercise again with different personnel so everybody has a chance to practice their skills.