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Fake Terror & Real Money

The Homeland Security Department on Monday announced a new round of mock terrorist attacks — and said private firms may have to pay to defend U.S. ports against the real thing.

The new round of mock terrorism events aimed at improving emergency responses will be staged next April in Connecticut and New Jersey, the department said Monday.

The department has not identified cities to participate in the exercises, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. He said the department is developing a plan for mock emergencies to be depicted in the drills.

The United Kingdom will host concurrent drills, the department said.

More than 8,500 people participated in similar exercises in Seattle and Chicago last May. The drills simulated a dirty bomb explosion in Seattle and a bioterror attack in Chicago.

The exercises cost $16 million and involved more than 100 government agencies at local, state and federal levels.

At the nation's ports, the federal government plans to spend nearly $3 billion on security programs this year.

But Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said on Monday, "we can't go around using public money for every private sector need."

"We need to talk to the private sector," Ridge said. "We don't have enough public money to do everything that needs to be done."

Ports and shipping companies are facing a July 1 deadline to have security programs in place for their docks and vessels or face potential fines.

The programs are based on regulations developed by the Homeland Security Department and the Coast Guard under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.

Ridge noted the 360 ports protected by the Coast Guard do about $1 trillion in business every year.

Sam Ruda, who heads the maritime division for the Port of Portland, said user fees likely will be needed to help pay the cost of increased security.

"I'm not really expecting that the federal government is going to bear the burden," Ruda said.

Next year's mock exercises will mark the third installment of the congressionally mandated Top Officials — or TOPOFF — training exercises. The first round, in May 2000, was in Denver and New Hampshire.

"Our experiences in TOPOFF 1 and 2 helped us adjust our procedures," Ridge said. "Educating, exercising and equipping crisis and consequence managers and responders remains a national priority."

A department report released in December said last year's drills revealed communication problems and confusion among emergency responders, as well shortages of medical supplies and hospital rooms.

Roehrkasse said officials from Connecticut and New Jersey volunteered to participate in the drills.

In related news:

  • The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that it is seeking proposals from companies to run a pilot "registered traveler" program in which low-risk frequent fliers could avoid extra security inspections at airports by submitting to background checks.
  • A retired minister and member of the military are among those involved in the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge to the list of travelers that the government has barred from flying because they're considered a threat.

    The ACLU contends that some people are wrongfully listed. Little is known about the lists, including how many people are on them and how they qualify to get on or off.

    The TSA acknowledged the name-matching technology used by some airlines confuses people on the no-fly list with passengers who have similar names, but said law enforcement officials could clear up any mistakes.