- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Virginia Beach company is planning a massive attack on the country, but don’t worry — it’s their job.

Applied Marine Technology Inc. (AMTI) is coordinating for the Department of Homeland Security the country’s largest terrorist emergency response exercise.

Dubbed the Top Officials National Exercise Series, or TOPOFF4, the exercise will be conducted sometime next year and involve more than 200 domestic and international organizations.

“The goal is to raise the nation’s preparedness to the highest level we can,” said Cary Ellis, AMTI’s vice president for national preparedness. “We use the lessons learned to roll back into a new and higher level of preparedness.”

The drill next year will be the fourth preparedness exercise mandated by Congress. TOPOFF2 in 2003 and TOPOFF3 last year were supported by AMTI, a supplier of products, services and expertise related to homeland security.

“We primarily assist the government in facilitating the exercise development process,” Mr. Ellis said. “It takes 18 to 20 months to go through all the buildup with supporting documents, building details of scenarios for the various venues and planning seminars.”

According to the State Department, TOPOFF aims to make sure that emergency responders know what to do and when to do it.

TOPOFF4, which is still in planning, will take place in three U.S. cities, other locations in North America, a U.S. territory, Europe and the Pacific region. The District always is involved in the drills, Mr. Ellis said.

No details about the upcoming drill were available, but previous exercises have cost about $16 million and included more than 10,000 participants, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“One difference this year is the stress on prevention,” Mr. Ellis said. “Before, great stress was put on response and recovery. We now focus additional energies on preparedness.”

The exercises simulate attacks with weapons of mass destruction, and participants are given little notice about what circumstances they will face.

“I think it’s very important that our nation be secured and be prepared,” Mr. Ellis said. “All of us prefer that these events would never happen. It gives us an opportunity to look at our capabilities and analyze them.”

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