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Fri, May 23, 2003

Civil Air Patrol Supports TOPOFF Exercise

May 12 to 16, Civil Air Patrol volunteers supported counterterrorism exercise TOPOFF 2 in Chicago and Seattle. The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, in cooperation with federal, state, local and Canadian partners, sponsored the five-day, full-scale exercise and simulation of how the nation would respond in the event of a weapons of mass destruction attack. CAP members in the two cities worked closely with local agencies to do their part in the emergency simulations.

In Chicago, while some of the 30 participating Illinois members role-played as victims, others stood ready to fly biohazard technicians to the exercise site. Still more escorted dignitaries and helped Chicago police with crowd control. CAP members there also served as part of a large group sent to selected hospitals and public health facilities to receive simulated inoculations against the exercise “plague” virus. This demonstrated the city’s capacity to obtain and distribute mass medications.

In Seattle, seven Washington Wing CAP cadets and senior members role-played as victims for medical triage and treatment. Afterward, they critiqued the treatment they received for exercise officials. Two additional CAP officers served as expert data collectors for the Seattle Fire Department extraction team and the emergency medical services triage team. They documented all pertinent data on the exercise during their assigned shifts for later analysis by exercise leaders.

“As a result of work by the Illinois and Washington wings, the TOPOFF 2 planners now understand even better what CAP has to contribute -- both in real-world scenarios and in such exercises as TOPOFF,” said John Kittle, CAP chief of counter-drug and homeland security. “This exercise was valuable in helping local emergency agencies become more familiar with CAP’s capabilities and personnel.”

Col. Doug Jones, CAP Washington Wing command liaison for homeland security and counterdrug operations, attended the debriefing for the Seattle venue. “Awareness of Civil Air Patrol's homeland security capability has increased considerably as a result of our involvement in TOPOFF 2,” Jones said. “Federal, state and local officials now have a much better understanding of how Civil Air Patrol can support the national homeland security strategy."

The first TOPOFF exercise was held in May 2000 in Denver and Portsmouth, N.H. That exercise included simulations of both chemical and biological terrorist attacks.  “The TOPOFF exercises are an important part of our national preparedness strategy,” said Tom Ridge, homeland security secretary. “If we are going to make our response system stronger, we first have to identify where strengths and weaknesses exist. That is what TOPOFF is designed to do.

“These challenging scenarios forced us to gauge our readiness, test our internal communications and reinforce relationships. As with the first TOPOFF exercise, held three years ago, we hope TOPOFF 2 will provide us with concrete examples of how we can better respond to attacks. While we're doing everything we can to prevent, deter and disrupt terrorist activity, we have to be prepared to respond to any real-life scenario that might occur.”

Civil Air Patrol, the official Air Force auxiliary, is a nonprofit organization with more than 64,000 members nationwide. It performs 95 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.

FMI: www.capnhq.gov

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