WHEELING - Local, state and federal officials converged on Pike Island Locks and Dam early Wednesday in an effort to sharpen their skills and ensure they are prepared for any potential disaster.
Motorists traveling past Pike Island may have noticed a Black Hawk helicopter circling and landing on one of the facility's piers. Boats came and went, and officials surveyed the area on foot - all part of a day-long exercise to increase cooperation between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and nearly a dozen other emergency and law enforcement agencies.
"It's two-fold. One - in case of a major event we have federal, state and local agencies working together on an incident," said Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo. "The other objective of this drill is to go to some of the critical infrastructures on the river and do security assessments of them. ... So we have experts from the Department of Homeland Security that will be on these facilities that could maybe make recommendations on how to strengthen the facilities while they take a tour of them."
Photo by Scott McCloskey
An Ohio National Guard helicopter lands on one of the piers at Pike Island Locks and Dam on Wednesday.
Vargo was working out of the Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management mobile command center parked near the Pike Island facility.
Kawika Riley, spokesman with the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said, "We are conducting a multimodal security exercise here in the Ohio River valley transportation corridor. We have federal, state and local security partners who are working together for operational and coordination purposes."
Officials could be seen walking along piers of the Pike Island facility while others watched from the public access areas. Following the landing of an Ohio National Guard Black Hawk helicopter, Lockmaster Jim Kirchner greeted nearly a dozen officials and crew members on a pier.
In addition, some officials gathered on two small boats that departed a lock chamber and traveled south on the river. Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms and newly appointed Wheeling Police Chief Robert Schwertfeger both attended.
In addition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration, other participating federal agencies included the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. Participating state and local agencies included Ohio County Emergency Management Agency, Marshall County Office of Emergency Management, Belmont County Emergency Management Agency, West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, West Virginia State Police, Ohio County Sheriff's Department, Wheeling Police Department and the Wheeling Fire Department.