Three days of training drills off the SoCal coast aim to prepare law enforcement for possible chemical or biological terror attacks from the sea. Deputies with assault rifles and hazmat suits drew up to a suspected boat, where people role-playing as terrorists were on board with hypothetical mustard gas. Patrick Healy reports from Malibu for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on June 13, 2012.
As part of a preparedness drill off the coast of Malibu Wednesday, individuals role-playing as terrorists were found in a vessel with a hypothetical chemical agent to test how the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and local law enforcement would handle a biological or chemical terrorist attack offshore.
The three-day offshore drill has been dubbed the Coastal Trident Regional Maritime Training Security Exercise and NBC4 News was among the media organizations allowed to observe one of the scenarios at close range, offshore at the north end of Los Angeles County.
The sheriff provided the viewing platform: a 41-foot utility boat recently acquired from the Coast Guard.
The scenario involved a small motorboat bobbing offshore. It caught the eye of Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Bosket, who is assigned to a federal anti-smuggling task force.
Bosket rattled off a list of reasons to be suspicious.
"You've got a vessel like this one that's sitting out here. It's free-floating. There's no anchor. There's multiple people on board. There's no fishing poles that are sticking out of it," Bosket said. "You're going to want to identify why that vessel is stopped."
As part of the scenario, the boat was allegedly contaminated with a mustard agent that terrorists perhaps were planning to bring ashore, but instead things backfired and they were sickened by the chemical.
The Sheriff's 55-foot Ocean Rescue 2 was specifically equipped with electronic sniffers to detect chemical and biological agents, and so deputies knew what they would be dealing with even before they approached.
Deputies with assault rifles and hazmat suits drew up to the suspected boat and boarded, but did not immediately remove the four individuals role-playing as terrorists.
"We had suspects who were injured," said Sheriff's Sgt. Mick Kelleher, whose specialty is dealing with hazardous materials. "We had to (decontaminate) them before we brought them on board to be treated by paramedics.”
Later, divers from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department examined the bottom of the boat to make sure there was no further contamination.
In all, some 30 local, state and federal agencies are participating in the three-day exercise, which concludes Thursday. It was created by the Port of Hueneme in partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Asymmetric Warfare.
Chemical or biological weapons have never been encountered off the LA County coast, according to Kelleher. And the mustard agent on the boat scenario is beyond anything Bosket has encountered while working with the federal interdiction task force.
"But is it beyond the realm of reality?" Bosket said before answering his own question. "No."