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Last week DHS completed TOPOFF 3, the most complex, comprehensive, and largest counter-terrorism exercise ever conducted in the United States, successfully culminating almost two years of exercise design and planning.

The exercise tested the ability of federal, state, local, and international governments to coordinate prevention and response to terrorist attacks. TOPOFF 3 provided key lessons for future exercises, DHS officials said during a post-exercise briefing Friday.

One of the best initial lessons learned, according to DHS officials, is the importance of the planning process. The Governor of Connecticut declared that her state agencies benefited immensely before the exercise even got under way. The same is true in New Jersey and at the federal level, where the individuals who participated all week are the same individuals that would respond to a real incident should one occur, the DHS officials pointed out.

According to one DHS official, TOPOFF 3 demonstrated that it takes commitment from all those involved to ensure that the nation is prepared to respond and to recover from any terrorist attack.

In addition to testing the communication and coordination capabilities, the exercise provided for the first real test of the National Incident Management System and the National Response Plan.

An after-action report is expected to be published in about six months and the findings will be used to continue to strengthen the nation?s preparedness, officials said.