Feds run security drills in Orient and on Plum Island

TIM KELLY PHOTO | The remains of Fort Terry on Plum Island's eastern side

Spot a bunch of government folk and police in Orient Thursday? No need to fear, it was just a drill.

Two of them, actually.

The Department of Homeland Security conducted a combined hazardous materials and security exercise on Plum Island, and at the same time the federal Transportation Security Administration joined with the Southold Police, Coast Guard and state DEC for a similar drill involving the Cross Sound Ferry.

On Plum Island, the scenario was that a fictitious person was handling a toxic substance, and later attempted to evade security personnel, and people were overcome with fumes in one of the old bunkers remaining from the animal disease center’s earlier days as Fort Terry.

That Army installation, active from the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century to World War I, guarded the entrance to the Long Island Sound route to New York.

The exercise involved 30 to 35 participants from the Army National Guard and Plum Island’s hazardous materials response team, with observers from the Southold Police, Brookhaven National Lab and the FBI, said Doug Ports, Plum Island’s director of operations.

“Different agencies have different focuses and even different gear and communications equipment,” said Mr. Ports. “This is an opportunity for multiple agencies to understand how each other works, how they can work together and how they can capitalize on each other’s capabilities.”

It’s not an opportunity that occurs often. Mr. Ports said.

“This is a unique exercise,” he said. “We just haven’t had this many groups together in one place at one time.”

The last exercise of that scale took place two to three years ago, he said.

While that drill was underway on the island, other federal and local agencies tested their ability to detect potential security threats coming into New York on the Orient to New London ferry. The efforts included employing radiation detectors and bringing trained police dogs through the vessels.

That’s a common exercise, said Southold Police Captain Martin Flatley.

“We’ve done three or four of them this year,” he said.