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10/19/2007 02:40 AM
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TopOff 4 reveals island's roadblocks
By Stephanie Godlewski
Pacific Daily News
[email protected]

The detonation of a dirty bomb, the apprehension of two possible terrorists, and the dispatching of fighter jets to Guam were some of the scenarios that have played out in this week's TopOff 4 exercises, which came at its midpoint yesterday.

The Congressionally mandated exercise was created to test the response and decision-making of top officials when faced with emergency situations, and help officials identify some of the strengths and weaknesses in their emergency response.

Other scenarios that have tested emergency crews since the mock dirty bomb exploded at Ypao Point on Tuesday include 150 "victims" being sent to the Guam Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, the U.S. Coast Guard dispatching the Pacific Strike team, and the supply of gas and food becoming depleted.

Exercise play will continue tomorrow and tabletop exercises occur next week. The way that officials react will be compiled in evaluations made by people looking over their shoulders during every part of the exercise. Over the next couple of months the evaluations will be compiled and a report will be sent to Congress.
Although more areas will come into light over the next few days of play, Gov. Felix Camacho has already identified some areas needing improvement.

"The distance, the lack of resources to respond to something of this nature, something that now we are quite aware of -- this is certainly going to be part of formulating a template for a standard operating procedure moving forward," Camacho said.

Guam Homeland Security Advisor Dennis Santo Tomas said that while distance and resources were roadblocks, they are eased by the help of our neighbors.

"If there's anything we've learned we've had some of our partners from Micronesia come here and extend a hand to us. That's the kind of collaboration that's happening. The weaknesses we have are kind of being overcome by these partnerships that are occurring. The friendships, the partnerships are strengthening which will only make us better," Santo Tomas said.

Also in response to the scenarios, volunteers from the Red Cross have come from Saipan, American Samoa, the U.S. mainland and South Korea donated $1 million to help in recovery.

The exercise will benefit Guam in the future when attempting to fix shortfalls said Guam Venue Director Nathan Rodgers.

"TopOff 4 can contribute in the same aspect when you look at lessons learned and best practices to build upon when the government would go into future opportunities in the way of grant writing or additional efforts to gain procurement mechanisms toward equipment, other programs that the federal government may offer. There are opportunities to use the findings, the lessons learned, the best practices identified in these exercises," said Rodgers.