The go-fast boat came roaring around the bend of the harbor in
Tampa, Fla., followed quickly by a high-speed pursuit boat from
the city police department’s marine unit. Bullets were flying
from both craft.
A policeman fell into the cold water. Within minutes, a U.S. Coast
Guard HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter—from the air station in nearby
Clearwater—swept onto the scene, and dropped a rescue diver
into the water.
Meanwhile, the police boat overtook the go-fast vessel, and heavily
armed, black-clad members of the police tactical-response team overwhelmed
the go-fast’s crewmembers and took them ashore to be screened
for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
This was all a demonstration, staged for a conference on chemical,
biological, radiological and nuclear defense, attended by senior
Defense Department and industry officials.
The intent was to show how a local law-enforcement agency can work
with U.S. military services and other federal agencies to frustrate
a terrorist attack.
Chris Reynolds, a local fire and rescue battalion chief, paramedic
and major in the Air Force Reserve, explained the scenario: “Special
Forces in Iraq have confiscated a laptop computer from a high-value
target. It contains intelligence that the Port of Tampa has been
targeted for a WMD attack.”
A Panama-flagged freighter, suspected of smuggling WMD, has been
tracked from “a country of interest,” and is entering
Tampa Bay, he said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s joint terrorism task
force is mobilized, the president and the homeland security secretary
are briefed, and the secretary directs the Coast Guard to assist
The exercise highlights the fact that Tampa—the seventh largest
port in the United States—is a particularly attractive target
for a terrorist attack, Reynolds noted.
The city also is home to two major military commands likely to
be on any terrorist hit list. The Special Operations Command is
playing a leading role in the global war on terror, and the U.S.
Central Command is directing the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both are based at MacDill Air Force Base.
MacDill is located at the end of a peninsula in the bay, where
access can be controlled tightly. In recent years, city and base
officials have signed a series of memoranda of understanding calling
for increased cooperation, especially in the area of security. The
police department is permitted to use a MacDill small-arms range
for training, and the department helps the base guard its perimeter.
“We serve as a civilian buffer between MacDill and the rest
of the city,” said Officer Bryan Felts, a member of the police
In Tampa, the task of coping with terrorism is assigned to special-operations
teams from the police and fire rescue departments. Each team focuses
on specific, hazardous tasks that require skills not ordinarily
held by most police officers or firemen. Within the police department,
members are not assigned fulltime to a team, but hold other positions
throughout their departments. They convene to train and to respond
The tactical-response team is trained in special weapons and tactics
(SWAT). It is equipped to handle a wide range of dangerous events,
including hostage situations, riots and barricades by armed suspects.
“We basically respond to anything in the city—anything
high risk,” Felts said.
Team members are equipped with such weapons as the Colt M4 5.56
mm carbine, Heckler & Koch MSG90A1 sniper rifle and SigSauer
P226 9 mm pistol. The team maintains a light armored vehicle that
is configured specifically for rescue missions.
Tactical response team members are seasoned law-enforcement professionals,
The Tampa police have a marine unit that includes five boats and
two personal watercraft. The “flagship” of this fleet
is a 32-foot Donzi ZF speedboat with twin outboard engines providing
500 horsepower. “It can go 74 miles an hour—faster than
you want to go,” said Master Patrolman Brad Novack.
The Donzi is equipped with a gyro-stabilized camera system with
three broadcast-quality sensors, day, night and infrared. The system
is capable of real-time, downlink broadcast to all police district
systems, the mobile command post and a mobile response vehicle.
The remainder of the fleet consists of a 26-foot Boston Whaler,
a 28-foot Goldline, a 19-foot rigid hull inflatable and a 21-foot
Divers are equipped with full-face masks, wireless communications
and dry-suits. For extremely contaminated water dives, the team
has customized helmets and a hard-wire communications system.
The divers’ primary responsibility is to conduct search,
rescue and recovery operations in Tampa’s waterways, which
include not only the bay and the harbor, but also the Hillsborough
River, which bisects the city. Since 9/11, the divers also have
been called upon to search and secure the port’s docks whenever
a Navy warship visits. In addition, they inspect civilian ships
below the waterline, which is a common place to hide smuggled contraband.
A hazardous devices and materials team responds to situations involving
homemade bombs, discarded or improperly stored commercial explosives,
military ordnances and chemical, biological and radiological hazards.
The fire-rescue department’s tactical medical response team
works hand-in-glove with the police tactical response unit. The
medics’ mission is to provide advanced life-support and rescue
capabilities for those victims who are difficult to reach or for
whom treatment would be delayed because of austere conditions.
These situations include hostage takings, armed barricades, terrorist
attacks, bomb explosions, dignitary protection and police operations
involving gang, drug and weapon interdictions. Team members conduct
airborne, in-water, rough terrain and high-rise, rooftop rescues.
Up to this point, Tampa’s special-operations teams haven’t
had any run-ins with terrorists. “We encounter a lot of drug
traffic,” said Novack. “And occasionally, a sailor from
a foreign-flag freighter jumps ship. That’s about it so far.”
If the teams did encounter terrorists, they would like to avoid
a shootout such as the one depicted in the demonstration, Novack
said. Tampa’s waterfront is crowded with offices, restaurants,
shops and homes, and the risk of civilian casualties could be high,
he pointed out.
“We’d probably back off,” he said. “We’d
keep them in sight, and look for a way to bring them into custody
without endangering innocent bystanders.”