Coast Guard leads radiologic threat exercise, encourages collaboration among agencies

BOSTON – The Coast Guard and its partners in the Port of Boston regularly participate in drills and training. Whether the exercise is repelling an attack, rescuing someone in the water, or containing an environmental threat, the Coast Guard prides itself on its preparation.

His motto: semper paratus means “always ready.” A three-day exercise currently taking place in Boston Harbor will give other agencies a chance to join them in preparing for the possibility of a radiological threat.

First responders from 13 agencies are joining the Coast Guard in the largest exercise of its kind in years. A “local industry” coordinated with the FBI to provide safe radiation sources for training.

On the first day, first responders divided into groups to test their wearable detection devices. Mass Sports Police Captain Jonathan Lent showed WBZ’s Lisa Hughes and photographer Terry McNamara how the device works – detecting more intense levels of radiation closer to a highly visible source.

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The drill offers the opportunity to test equipment that is not part of everyday training. It also gives FBI Special Agent Josh Canter a chance to share expertise and meet any first responders in the group he doesn’t know.

Canter and other executives say inter-agency collaboration is key. It creates intimacy and builds trust. As the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated, interagency training pays off when a real crisis hits. Canter welcomes the emphasis on interaction and relationship building.

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“One of my mentors once told me, ‘The first time they meet you shouldn’t be when you’re standing in a parking lot before an incident,'” Canter said.

Canter explained that if first responders knew him, they would be more likely – right away – to call him to check out a potential threat. The earlier his investigations begin, the better the outcome if there is a threat.

In the shadow of jet planes and a towering cruise ship, the second exercise required the participating first responders to use more sophisticated equipment to locate a hidden source of radiation at the Conley Terminal. Local, state, and federal agencies may use different equipment, training, and tactics to do their jobs. But through Thursday, they will be working together – in mixed groups – on scenarios involving everything from stolen radiation to a threat on a ferry.

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US Coast Guard Captain Kailie Benson calls the interaction and cooperation “human skills” which, combined with regular training, can act as a deterrent. In theory, if “evil actors” were aware of the large-scale training and cohesion between the groups, they could be deterred from attacking Boston Harbor.

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