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Homeland security training drills held on Peconic Bay

Phase II of a multi-agency homeland security training exercise has been taking place on the Peconic Riverfront for the past few days.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation organized the drill, Operation Blue Trident, where officers went out on the water to search for radiological materials as well as enforce fishing and boating rules in the area. They start on the Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead, but travel all over the Long Island Sound and to marinas on Long Island. Phase I was held August 2-16 to address threats to Long Island waterways, like pesticides.

Captain Mike St. Jeanos of the DEC spent ten months organizing the drill and works to bring tactics the DEC learned from the New York Police Department and bring it other parts of the state.

“When we do a drill like this, we use real radiological material,” Capt. St. Jeanos said. “We are operating in a real-world environment, it’s on the water, it’s not simulated. And we’re using real material hidden in an undercover vessel and our people have to go out and find them.”

Officers are divided into groups and search for the planted radiological material. Long Island was chosen as the location this year due to its proximity to New York City. Previous drills have taken place in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and, just last year, Operation Clear passage was held on Lake Champlain.

“Long Island is a vital gateway to the New York Metropolitan area, and we must be fully prepared to handle any crisis that threatens the wellbeing of New Yorkers,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said, in a press release.

The drill is graded and assessed to help officers improve their skills.

“If there was any range of events, like a hurricane, an oil spill, a plane crash, basically everything we are doing here in terms of communication, operations, would be the same,” Capt. St. Jeanos added. “A lot of what we’re learning today has a lot of applicability.”

The second half of the day, officers go out and perform their regular duties, like fisheries enforcement, navigation enforcement and monitoring radiological activity in the water.

Twenty three local, state and federal agencies were involved, including the East End Marine Task Force that ecompasses East Hampton, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, Sag Harbor, Shelter Island, Westhampton and Quogue Police Departments.

The training exercise ends Saturday after four long, 15-hour days on Long Island.

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Photo: Agencies hold a practice drill Friday on Peconic Bay. (Credit: Rachel Siford)