NEW LONDON, Conn.–Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., observed state and local first responders Monday reacting to a mock terrorist event designed to test, strengthen, and evaluate Connecticut’s preparedness capabilities in the event of a real attack.

The exercise, staged by the Department of Homeland Security, realizes the role Lieberman envisioned for the Department when he proposed legislation in 2002 to create a new federal agency that would focus and coordinate efforts to defend against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks.

Known as TOPOFF 3, the exercise took place at Fort Trumball and will continue throughout the week. A similar exercise is taking place simultaneously in New Jersey. Canada and the United Kingdom are players in the exercise.

“As we refine our security goals, we must understand that partnerships are critical to our success,” said Lieberman, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I hope today’s practice reinforces connections between first responders and officials at all levels of government to build a base for future cooperation. Communication among all players is a key to success.”

The exercise will help identify strengths, as well as weaknesses, in the states’ and federal government’s ability to respond to and recover from a major attack. Although a final evaluation is not expected for weeks, it is likely to provide valuable guidance on how to improve response capabilities.

“This exercise fulfills one of the roles I envisioned for the Department of Homeland Security, which is to systematically prepare the country to defend against and respond to threats that the experts say will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Lieberman said. “TOPOFF is a way to put policies and plans to a real life test. And when state officials have a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in responding to a catastrophe, all Connecticuters benefit.”

Lieberman added that in addition to practice exercises, the Administration must also provide first responders with adequate resources. In its Fiscal Year 2006 budget, the Administration proposed cutting $1.7 billion – or 38 percent – from first responder programs throughout the federal government. Last month, Lieberman successfully won an amendment on the Senate floor – offered with HSGAC Chairman Susan Collins, R-Maine – to restore $705 million for first responders and to guarantee $150 million for port security.

TOPOFF 3, which took two years to plan and coordinate, is a component of the National Preparedness Strategy to help build a coordinated capability to prevent terrorist attacks, reduce vulnerabilities, and minimize the damage of attacks or natural disasters.

More than 200 organizations, including numerous state and local emergency management, police, fire, and public works departments, as well as 27 federal departments and agencies, 156 private-sector companies, associations and non-government organizations, and more than 10,000 federal, state and local officials are taking part in the exercise.