Federal agency finds local planning helps a seller's market

One place where many cities will turn for assistance when planning homeland

security-related exercises is the federal Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP) within the Homeland Security Department. ODP was created in 1996 under the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, better known as the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici program. The office's mission is to provide tabletop and field training exercises to 120 cities based largely on population size.

ODP is best known for conducting two mock terrorist exercises — TopOff1 and TopOff2 — involving thousands of federal, state and local agencies during the past two years. Indeed, the office has been busy. Mike Forgy, branch chief for the office's state and local exercise division, estimated that his staff has conducted 360 exercises so far under Nunn-Lugar-Domenici. By year's end, he and the seven members of his division hope to provide training and exercises for all 120 cities listed in the program.

"The truth is, we're out every week going some place — going to a planning meeting, going to an exercise," he said.

Although there are obvious differences among jurisdictions — such as whether they're rural or urban, what type of critical infrastructures they have, and the amount personnel and resources they have available — he said the exercise theory is the same. What has changed since Sept. 11, 2001, is the level of interest in getting better training, equipment and technology.

Before then, Forgy characterized interest as moderate. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, he flew from New York City to Lubbock, Texas, to conduct a tabletop biological training exercise. "I walked in the room and there were twice as many people as I've ever seen in an exercise," he said. "People suddenly wanted to be there, and that was probably the biggest change."

Another change has been the acceptance of training in new fields, such as dealing with chemical and biological disasters. "Some folks are eating it up and want to do everything they can, take every course possible.

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