One of these things is not like the others

Customizing terrorism preparedness to meet L.A. County's unique needs

     Operation Archangel: The Operation Archangel project, a critical infrastructure program piloted in Los Angeles, is designed to identify critical infrastructure targets and develop plans to protect them. Funded by a $3 million grant from the DHS Office for Domestic Preparedness, the program aims to prevent attacks by identifying potential targets and strengthening weak points in their overall security.

     The program, which is designed to be scalable to cities of all sizes, includes maps of high-profile targets in its database. The data repository also incorporates information on corresponding evacuation routes, each structure's proximity to hospitals and first responders, the location of possible hazmat issues within the facility and the estimated number of occupants.

     The LAPD developed Operation Archangel in 2003 and now heads the multi-agency expansion, which includes the LA County Sheriff's Department, city and county fire services, port police, airport police and the FBI.

     Counted among the project's protected sites are: water and power plants, media and communications venues, and transportation hubs considered critical to the city's everyday operations. Other sites such as Disneyland Resort, the STAPLES Center, Hollywood Boulevard and motion picture studios are safeguarded as well; though they are not critical to everyday operations, these sites represent lucrative economic terrorist targets.

Federal involvement

     But information sharing and advances in technology can only take terrorism preparedness so far; cooperation with other public safety entities drives the effort home. Protecting the greater Los Angeles area would not be complete without a little help from friends, or in this case ICE and CBP officials in Los Angeles-based field offices.

     "We are the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security while the CBP are the interdictors; they are responsible for holding the line, and securing airports and seaports," says Robert Schoch, special agent in charge at the ICE Los Angeles field office.

     There are 6,000 ICE agents nationwide and Los Angeles represents the largest of 26 field offices. ICE and CBP agents investigate immigration and customs violations, including human, weapons and narcotics trafficking. The two groups work in tandem: DBP is the uniformed arm and ICE is the investigative arm. ICE responds to all seaport and airport violations and those across the Mexican border.

     Since May 2006, ICE has combined its powerful tools with local law enforcement to address southern California's gang problem. More than 5,000 gang members have since been arrested. During a recent 90-day surge, ICE officials made 124 arrests of major gang leaders in the Los Angeles office. Half of them were federally prosecuted and will receive eight- to 10-year federal sentences. The other half will be processed for deportation.

     ICE meets quarterly with LAPD officials and the Los Angeles Mayor's Office to discuss issues related to human trafficking in prostitution and forced labor cases. Having the second busiest airport in the country — often called the gateway to Asia — a large emphasis is placed on interdiction and investigation of these crimes.

     Cooperative efforts have paid off. In fact, ICE and CBP agents from San Diego and Los Angeles joined forces in the largest seize of Mexican brown heroin in California's history — and the second largest in the United States. Authorities confiscated 120 pounds of the substance on Valentine's Day 2007.

     When one of these things is not like the others, only a customized solution will do. Through information sharing, cooperation and grants to fund new technologies, Los Angeles County has developed a specific solution to its unique Tier One situation.

     Linda Spagnoli is a law enforcement advocate in the areas of communication, child safety, officer safety and sex offender tracking. Her focus is on interagency data sharing, emergency communications, media relations and funding. Spagnoli maintains her position as director of communications for Code Amber, the largest Internet distribution of Amber Alerts. She may be reached at

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