Niagara Gazette — The first “intelligence chatter” came into Falls police around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“We received information on a vehicle, traveling from Canada toward the United States with explosives,” Falls Police Lt. Dave Kok said, “We immediately dispatched patrol vehicles to the area of the border to be on the alert for the vehicle.”
At 8 a.m., Customs and Border Protection agents at the Rainbow Bridge, who were also on alert for the vehicle, got a call from Niagara Regional Police and the Canadian Border Services Agency.
“We had a suspicious van that started coming over the bridge, from the Canadian side,” CBP Agent Greg Bennett said. “The vehicle stopped on the bridge and two people got out. There was also a report of an explosion near the van.”
Bridge surveillance cameras captured video of the two people leaving a backpack near the van and walking away with another knapsack. American and Canadian authorities immediately shut down the bridge, cleared it of traffic and activated an emergency response.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad and a bomb-sniffing dog from the Federal Protective Service swarmed onto the bridge. The sheriff’s department helicopter also hovered over head.
At the same time, the backpack-toting suspects from the van showed up at the clearance desk for Customs and Border Protection and asked to enter the U.S. Their arrival triggered an evacuation of all the buildings on the U.S. side of the bridge.
It could have been a terrorist event. In reality, it was only a drill.
As bus loads of tourists were diverted to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Falls residents watched from nearby, the joint U.S.-Canadian exercise went off without any serious glitches.
A Niagara Regional Police SWAT team deployed onto the bridge to secure the van. CBP officers took the two suspects (role playing Niagara Regional Police officers) into custody and confiscated what they believed was a backpack bomb.
Later in the morning, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad robot blew up the backpack out on the bridge.
“It’s good to go through an exercise like this every couple of years,” Bennett said. “It lets us make sure our communication and collaboration is where it needs to be.”
Kok agreed with that assessment.
“If this had been the real thing, we would have deployed our Emergency Response Team in support,” he said. “And we would have secured the area around the bridge and kept traffic and people away.”