GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. -- More than 300 law enforcement and military personnel swept through a 100-mile stretch of the Ohio Valley on Wednesday, familiarizing themselves with the area's industrial infrastructure and learning how other agencies respond to emergencies.
The Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) exercise involved brief visual inspections of power and chemical plants, rail and riverboat terminals, lock and dam complexes and natural gas pipelines from New Haven in Mason County to Russell, Ky. The Kanawha River from Point Pleasant to the John Amos power plant near St. Albans also was covered.
VIPR team members used helicopters, emergency vehicles, reconnaissance aircraft, Coast Guard patrol boats and watercraft from the Divisions of Natural Resources in West Virginia and Ohio to conduct the exercise.
Mobile command centers from the Transportation Security Administration, the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Ohio Highway Patrol were set up at the Robert C. Byrd Lock and Dam complex at Gallipolis Ferry to coordinate communications and collect data from the field.
"This is my biggest VIPR ever," said Michael Cleveland, federal security director for TSA operations in West Virginia. "Today we're pulling in people and resources from both Ohio and West Virginia, and borrowing federal air marshals from Pittsburgh. We wanted to get as many key players together as possible to have a visible presence and let people know we're out here. It can be a deterrent."
TSA security officers are stationed at all West Virginia airports with commercial service, while TSA inspectors check cargo at airports and other transportation facilities. A total of 124 TSA employees are stationed in West Virginia.
Smaller-scale VIPR exercises are held at Yeager Airport and other transportation facilities on numerous occasions throughout the year.
"If you're looking at domestic planning for terrorist issues, you have to look at the Ohio Valley, with its coal and its chemical and power plants and other resources," said Lt. Dick Grau of the Ohio Highway Patrol. "There are 53 agencies out here today, learning how they can pool their resources and share information and communications."
Grau said the Ohio and West Virginia mobile command centers were successfully merging their communication and data gathering operations on Wednesday.
"The networking of people in all the different agencies is probably as important as anything that's happening here today," Grau said. "Knowing what each of us brings to the table, and being able to match names with faces is invaluable."
In addition to using three helicopters for aerial inspection, the exercise made use of the Ohio Highway Patrol's camera-equipped Cessna Caravan, which is capable of transmitting close-up, detailed real-time images of objects on the ground taken from more than five miles away.