United States government operations and exercises on September 11, 2001

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On September 11, 2001, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was involved in an ongoing operation which involved deploying fighter aircraft to northwestern North America. The U.S. Military and NORAD had also planned to conduct several military exercises and a drill was being held by the National Reconnaissance Office, a Department of Defense agency. The operations, exercises and drills were all canceled following the September 11 attacks.


Ongoing military operations

Operation Northern Vigilance, was a NORAD operation which involved deploying fighter aircraft to locations in Alaska and Northern Canada. [1] The operation was a response to a Russian exercise, in which long-range bombers were dispatched to Russia's high north. The operation was one part simulation, one part real world. It was immediately called off after NORAD received word from NEADS that the Federal Aviation Administration had evidence of a hijacking. All simulated information (so-called "injects") were purged from computer screens at NORAD headquarters in Colorado. On receiving news of the attacks, the Russians promptly canceled their exercise as well. [2]

Planned military exercises

The military exercises (war games) planned for September 11, 2001, included:

National Reconnaissance Office drill

Aside from military exercises, a National Reconnaissance Office drill was being conducted on September 11, 2001. In a simulated event, a small aircraft would crash into one of the towers of the agency's headquarters after experiencing a mechanical failure. The NRO is the branch of the Department of Defense in charge of spy satellites. According to its spokesman Art Haubold: "No actual plane was to be involved -- to simulate the damage from the crash, some stairwells and exits were to be closed off, forcing employees to find other ways to evacuate the building." He further explained: "It was just an incredible coincidence that this happened to involve an aircraft crashing into our facility, as soon as the real world events began, we canceled the exercise." Most of the agency's personnel were sent home after the attacks. [12]

Operation Tripod bioterrorism exercise

On September 12, 2001, there was due to take place the second part of an exercise known as Operation Tripod, set up to "test the plan to distribute antibiotics to the entire city population during a bioterrorism attack". [13] Richard Sheirer, director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Emergency Management (NYC OEM), had hired "over 1,000 Police Academy cadets and Fire Department trainees to play terrified civilians afflicted with various medical conditions, allergies, and panic attacks." Various individuals were invited to watch, including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the police and fire commissioners, and representatives of the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). [14] Pier 92 was set up as a model distribution station where the "victims" of the mock attack who needed to receive antibiotics would be treated. [13] The exercise was a follow-up to a previous training exercise in New York, called RED Ex, which took place on May 21, 2001. [15] According to the MTI Report Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned in the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, "September 11 was going to be a busy day at the OEM. Staff members arrived early to prepare for Operation Tripod." [13]

When the September 11, 2001, attacks began, Operation Tripod was immediately canceled as attentions turned to the real ongoing emergency. Because Pier 92 had been set up ready for the exercise, NYC OEM staff were able to move there and quickly convert it into a large emergency operations center when their original command center (in WTC Building 7) was evacuated and later destroyed. Thus, within 31 hours of the attacks, NYC OEM had a functional facility able to manage the search and rescue effort, just four miles north-northwest of the WTC site. [16] The exercise was later rescheduled and took place on May 22, 2002. [17]

See also

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