Local, federal agencies to test disaster plans during exercises on St. Thomas, Water Island

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ST. THOMAS - While the scenario is just pretend today, it could very well be real tomorrow.

Multiple federal and territorial agencies today and Wednesday will be spotted in the midst of a role-playing simulation of a catastrophe. Officials from the agencies will be simulating a number of skills, including lifesaving skills, which they will pretend to perform on people who are role-playing as victims that are either injured or dead.

"A lot of the things have been pre-empted so people don't think that something's actually going on," said Elton Lewis, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.

During the two-day exercise, which is termed "Operation Tide Breaker," the WICO dock and Havensight will be the central locations for the exercise to take place, though several other locations, including the hospital, airport, one of the cruise ships and a portion of Water Island, also will be active.

The exercise is in its third year, and it is supposed to help VITEMA coordinate with the V.I. National Guard, the V.I. Police Department, the V.I. Fire Service and the hospital in the case of a rash of disasters.

Other agencies participating in the exercise include the V.I. Port Authority, V.I. Health Department's Emergency Medical Services, V.I. Tourism Department, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the American Red Cross, Puerto Rico National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI.

The exercise is designed to test several capabilities including intelligence and information sharing and dissemination; interoperable communications; onsite incident management; emergency triage and pre-hospital treatment; medical evacuation; "weapons of mass destruction" and hazardous material response; explosive device response operations; and points of distribution operations.

The focus this year, Lewis said, would be communication, which every year fails to show improvement.

In part, he said, the agencies struggle to communicate because the technologies that the agencies are using sometimes are either out-of-date or incompatible. For the most part, though, the agencies simply need to practice, and cooperate.

"It's why we keep doing this, over and over again," Lewis said.

VITEMA and the V.I. National Guard, with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, developed the scenarios and exercise objectives, and spent the last several months coordinating the participation of federal and local government agencies and the maritime industry.

FEMA, in addition to participating, provides technical and financial support for the territory's annual exercise, which last year took place on St. Croix.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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