Skills for terrorism response stressed 

Standing on a pier Tuesday afternoon near AT&T Park, a potential target for terrorists, Mayor Gavin Newsom cautioned that serious threats against major American cities don’t only happen on the East Coast.

The warnings and the increased need for vigilance — especially in the wake of the botched car bombing in Times Square — were made during a homeland security exercise testing local responses to terrorist attacks on ports.

"The information I get that’s not made public makes me, as a citizen, concerned about the prospect that something in the future along the lines of what happened in New York ... could happen [in San Francisco]," the mayor said.

The mayor’s call for increased attention to defense and emergency response in The City came amid the Golden Guardian exercise, which began Tuesday.

Involving more than 3,000 responders at all levels, the statewide exercise that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger implemented in 2004 is the nation’s largest drill of its kind.

As part of this year’s exercise, attacks were simulated on Bay Area ports Tuesday. The scenarios involved a regionwide response to problems participants were not made aware of until they happened, Newsom said.

One involved an assault on a container ship that caused an explosion that leaked hazardous materials, which then drifted over to Oakland.

Another drill in Redwood City featured a simulated attack on a ship that blew up and released chemicals, along with a second explosion that caused a building to collapse and trap victims inside.

One San Francisco exercise was particularly attention-grabbing. The City staged an exhibition in which two trained sea lions were used to track down a fake mine that was planted underwater beneath a pier.

The exercise also had a trained dolphin use its innate echo-location ability to track down a submerged terrorist diver and alert authorities. After that, a sea lion carrying a set of leg cuffs in its mouth set off to essentially arrest the terrorist. The leg cuffs are attached to a rope in which authorities can use to pull the suspect from the water.

While Newsom said he enjoyed the sea mammal show, he stressed that the overall mission of the Golden Guardian exercises is to prepare the Bay Area for attacks.

There were some hiccups in The City’s simulated emergency response, he said, including a problem contacting pertinent local officials Tuesday morning.

"The whole idea is to have problems, and to learn from those problems and fix them," Newsom said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

 

Staying prepared

 

Statewide Golden Guardian exercises:

2010: Terrorist attacks on multiple state ports

2011: Catastrophic flood (Central Valley)

2012: Catastrophic earthquake (Southern California)

2013: Catastrophic earthquake (Bay Area)

2014: Terrorism — critical infrastructure and key resources

2015: Civil disturbance

Source: California Emergency Management Agency

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