April 27, 2013 8:17:58 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Local officers from the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and neighboring counties traveled to Illinois this week to participate in a one-of-a-kind homeland security training exercise.
Deputies Larry Swearingen and Ivan Bryan were among 50 Mississippi law enforcement officers who traveled to Marion, Ill. as part of a combined effort between the states.
"Right now we are setting a standard, because we're the only two states in the United States who have been able to do this," Swearingen said.
Swearingen, commander of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security for District 2 and the commander for Lowndes County's Special Response Unit, said in light of the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon, practicing real world scenarios helps in the event of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.
In Illinois, the three-day training exercise was based upon an earthquake on the New Madrid fault line.
"This is the first time two states have come together and put on an exercise where they can test the mobility to make sure we could mobilize to another state," Swearingen said.
During the event, officers were presented with obstacles likely to occur in the event of a natural disaster, such as having to find alternate routes to get to their location, conducting search and rescue and checking critical infrastructure. Swearingen said from the moment the Mississippi unit deployed, they were in mock training mode, communicating by radio with law enforcement officials in Illinois.
Since the training exercise, Illinois and Mississippi have entered into an agreement that in the event of a natural disaster, each unit will mobilize to help the other.
"If we have another (Hurricane) Katrina, we'll have 500 officers from Illinois that we've trained with, and some of us know personally, coming down to assist us," Swearingen said. "And if they have something, we can send 170 officers up to them. The greatest importance of it is for the citizens to be protected."
He added that the agreement came about due to the similarities in Mississippi and Illinois law, and other states are now using Mississippi as a model for their training exercises.
"It's a great compliment," he said. "You've got states from all over coming to see how Mississippi does things."
Officers from Oktibbeha County, Amory, Brooksville and Meridian police departments also participated in the exercise.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.