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Special forces train for terrorists, tempest in Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:15 PM
TAMPA -

Come terrorist invasion or high water, Tampa aims to be prepared for the worst.

Two drills are taking place in Tampa this week. One practices what to do if a hurricane sweeps up Hillsborough Bay; the other is a response to a scenario in which terrorists kidnap Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The latter is the exercise people are most likely to notice. Some parts of the drill will be hard to miss — such as the explosions and military helicopters circling downtown.

The exercise is designed to gauge the response of special operations forces from the United States and nine other nations in a hostage rescue in which Buckhorn is the hostage.

The operation began Tuesday afternoon in the harbor outside Tampa General Hospital, as the forces practiced taking out a mock enemy outpost. The assault by land, sea and air included a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, a Chinook helicopter, Zodiac boats, ground-mobility vehicles and rigid-hull inflatable boats like those used by Navy SEALs.

Visually impressive as that was, Tuesday's spectacle was only a fraction of what's expected today. The real action will begin about 1 p.m. when the operators go full-throttle with pyrotechnics and blank ammo.

The demonstration and drill is part of a special operations conference and trade show at the Tampa Convention Center.

The public might notice loud explosions and the sound of weapons firing in today's drill but will be in no danger as long as they stay outside the area police have cordoned off for the event, organizers say. Spectators are encouraged to watch the demonstration from various viewing areas along the water near the convention center.

This week's hurricane disaster drill is more of a behind-the-scenes event.

That mock scenario focuses on a hurricane hitting Tampa during a time when thousands of visitors are in town, such as during the Republican National Convention in August.

Hurricane season begins on June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30.

The drill is being staged by the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The scenario includes evacuating tens of thousands of people from downtown Tampa as faux Hurricane Gispert, named for Larry Gispert, the retired director of Hillsborough County Emergency Management, roars up Tampa Bay, aiming for downtown.

"The public is not directly involved in the exercise but may hear about it through media outlets and website drill posts," said Jessica Sims, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. She said about 300 people at the state and local levels are taking part.

Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Preston Cook said the drill is mostly for internal tweaking of the emergency plan. Most of the action will take place within the county's emergency operations center, he said, and other field operations centers.


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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