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N.Y. completes 1,000 joint counter terrorism exercises in 2018

Gov.  Andrew M. Cuomo announced in February the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Office of Counter Terrorism conducted counter terrorism exercises at 1,000 locations in 2018. During each exercise, counter terrorism experts from state and local agencies go undercover as customers and assess the ability of businesses to recognize and report suspicious activity. The 1,000 exercises conducted in 2018 represents a 56 percent increase in these operations since 2016 when Gov. Cuomo directed the Division to expand them in his State of the State Address. Additionally, the Division also partnered with federal, state, and local law enforcement for “Operation NY-SECURE” which involved the completion of 20 counter terrorism and incident response exercises at rail stations throughout the state.

“New York State will never be intimidated by the threat of terrorism, but we will always be prepared when it rears its cowardly head,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These exercises play a critical role strengthening law enforcement’s counter terrorism preparedness and serve as a reminder to businesses and the general public to stay alert and report suspicious activity when they see it.”

This year, the Office of Counter Terrorism partnered with more than 400 law enforcement personnel from over 100 agencies statewide to conduct exercises in every county. Exercises were conducted at a wide range of businesses that offer products or services that could be used in a myriad of potential terrorist plots. Specifically, the teams assessed 172 truck rental locations, 134 hardware stores, 111 hotels, 75 drone retailers, 69 gun and sporting goods stores, as well as a number of other large retailers and businesses that sell chemicals or components used in the construction of explosive devices. Additional exercises were also conducted at a number of mass-gathering locations including stadiums, transit hubs, malls, colleges and hospitals.

The strategy of conducting exercises at various businesses has heightened awareness to effectively identify and report suspicious activity that leads to arrests. For example, in the Spring of 2018, a large retailer contacted their local police department to report a customer who made a purchase of items deemed suspicious. Following a joint investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies, an individual was arrested and charged with possession of a destructive device and a silencer, as well as using false identification in the purchase of a rifle. Cases such as these are evidence of this program’s effectiveness at enhancing New York’s overall counter terrorism posture.

Given the successes of these exercises, the governor called for further expansion of the program to critical infrastructure sites in his 2019 State of the State Address. This expansion will help raise awareness among critical infrastructure owners and operators of the threats that those facilities face and the measures that can be taken to mitigate those threats.

In addition to the 1,000 exercises, the Division also partnered with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in “Operation NY-SECURE” to conduct counter terrorism and incident response exercises along Amtrak routes and MTA commuter lines. The Operation’s goal is to improve coordination and response between the railroad police agencies responsible for each station, and the state and local law enforcement agencies that respond to emergencies at those locations. These visible exercises included heightened platform patrols, increased security presence onboard trains, explosive detection canine sweeps and counter-surveillance measures. Operation NY-SECURE completed six multi-station exercises at Amtrak and MTA stations along the Empire Line and 14 additional events at single stations across the State.