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Utah’s Camp Williams hosts nation’s largest cyber defense exercise

Hundreds of Army National Guard soldiers are in Utah this week for the U.S. Department of Defense’s “largest unclassified cyber defense exercise” hosted by the Utah National Guard.

Cyber Shield 2021, which is being held at Camp Williams and includes approximately 800 participants nationwide, is a large-scale cyber exercise in which soldiers on the “Blue Team” get to practice defending a online network from the “adversarial interference” of the “Red Team,” according to Exercise Director George Battistelli.

“It’s a chance for the soldiers to actually get hands-on,” Battistelli said. “We’ve seen so many different cyber events where the National Guard is called out. ... We have to have a trained, ready cyberforce.”

Rather than rifles or handguns, the soldiers in the home base room at Camp Williams on Tuesday were armed with headsets and laptops as they worked to prevent cyber attacks being initiated by a team down the hall in a dimly lit room draped with pirate flags.

“Each year, the exercise continues to grow and get better,” said Battistelli, who added that the annual two-week training gives soldiers “the ability to actually put their hands on a keyboard and train” as if it were a real cyber attack.

Battistelli compared data to “digital bullets” and talked about the importance of defending data, whether in the context of national security, law enforcement, health care or other industries.

“We need somebody to protect and defend ... and that’s what our Blue teams are doing every day,” he said. “They’re using those different methodologies to protect those digital bullets and protect all that information, and the soldiers really get the opportunity to do it.”

Lt. Col. Brad Rhodes of the Colorado National Guard said the purpose of the cyber defense exercise is “to provide not only a training environment, but a learning and assessment environment, so that we can actually assess the skills of the teams collectively.”

Rhodes noted that the training draws a “really interesting mix” of soldiers with different backgrounds, from cyber defense professionals to soldiers with zero cyber experience.

“So we bring a whole lot of different players to this,” he said, “and people walk out of the exercise with a greater understanding of how we do a cyber exercise at the national level.”

One common cybersecurity threat is disinformation that is spread or amplified on social media by foreign adversaries, according to Rhodes, who said “it’s very difficult” to fight such disinformation once it has been widely disseminated.

“It’s really difficult to put Pandora back in the box once Pandora is out there,” he said. “So one of the things I always tell folks all the time is (to) verify what you’re seeing.”

Rhodes continued, “It’s on us as citizens of the United States to take some of that responsibility. There’s a lot of great information out there, and misinformation. But we have to take the time to actually look through it ourselves.”

The 2021 Cyber Shield at Camp Williams began on July 10 and ends on Friday, according to a press release about the event.

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Utah County Sheriff’s Office to hold active shooter training for teachers

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting a Teachers Academy in August that will consist of a 20-hour course for teachers and educators that is “designed to cover critical skills needed in an active shooter incident.”

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Mike Smith have held three Teachers Academy classes since 2019, according to a July 14 press release, which noted that the training “is designed for teachers, administrators, and school support staff” and has been “immensely popular with teachers and other school staff.”

“Participants will be briefed on lessons learned from active shooter incidents in the United States and around the world,” the sheriff’s office announced. “Law Enforcement, self-defense, and medical professionals will teach skills that are designed to save lives.”

The Teacher Academy sessions will take place on the five Tuesdays in August, beginning Aug. 3, as well as a range day on Sept. 4 at the Utah County Sheriff’s Office’s Thistle gun range in Spanish Fork Canyon.

“Participants may use, but need not have, their own handgun for range day,” the sheriff’s office noted.

Topics covered during the Teacher Academy training will include tactical emergency medical techniques, weapons familiarization, Utah concealed carry certification, VirTra Simulator training, tactical de-escalation, self-defense and live range-shooting,.

In a written statement, Smith said that school safety “is of the utmost importance to me and the Sheriff’s Office,” adding that “we are excited to provide this level of training to our educators.”

“Many times people fail to act in critical incidents because they have never been taught how to act,” the Utah County Sheriff said. “The skills taught in this class are designed to teach you how to act and how to save lives.”

Due to “the nature of the training,” Smith is limiting the number of participants to 30 people. On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office announced that this year’s Teachers Academy is full and that “those who submitted applications and did not make it will be placed on a waiting list for withdrawals or for the next session which is still (to be announced).”

Any questions about the Teachers Academy can be directed to Public Information Officer Sgt. Spencer Cannon at (801) 404-1912.

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Provo City Council drowns in information from FEMA over local levees

You don’t need to have a Chevy to say bye bye when it comes to currently dry levees along the Provo River and Utah Lake.

It’s when there is too much water that has federal and city leaders concerned, like a 100-year flooding incident, according to Brian Torgersen, director of the Provo Public Services division.

The issue residents need to be concerned about comes down to this: Either the existing levees are rebuilt to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, they’re expanded on either side or officials do nothing.

If the city opts to do nothing, the majority of residents living on the west side of Provo will be required to purchase flood insurance for 50 years.

Flood insurance costs would range from $600 to $6,000 a year, according to Torgersen.

The conundrum began after the great flooding of 1982-83 when emergency levees were built along the Provo River and the lake. A levee is an embankment built to prevent the overflow of a river. But these emergency levees do not meet current standards.

FEMA does not recognize the area levees even though they are on city maps.

“FEMA ignores their existence,” Torgersen said. “They have buckled down on levees because of issues that have happened in the Midwest.”

FEMA rules on levees are a one-size-fits-all. So, levee requirements along the Mississippi River are the same requirements for the Provo River.

The Public Services division of Public Works has been working for more than 15 years to see what options there might be and on mapping questions.

They, with other municipalities, have taken the issue all the way to Congress with little hope of getting a variance or an opt-out option. Now, the levee can has been kicked to the end of the road.

FEMA is getting its data from historic water flows rather that looking at projections for the future.

Councilman George Handley said he was concerned the agency was foregoing issues such as drought and climate changes as it analyzes data.

So how are residents affected?

If the city opts to follow FEMA mandates, the cost will be about $74 million to rebuild levees.

If the levees are widened, it will necessitate the purchase of land parcels and also require a 15-foot clearance on either side of the levees.

Because tree roots and levees don’t work well together, FEMA will require all trees and large shrubs to be taken out along the levees, including the large cottonwood trees that shade the walking and biking trails along the Provo River and Utah Lake. That also includes the Provo Municipal Airport. Those trees are part of a bird sanctuary.

Since the 1982-83 flooding, hundreds of homes, churches and schools, including the new Provo High School, have been built on the west side and in the area that FEMA recognizes as a flood area that would be included in a 100-year incident.

There is much more involved in this discussion concerning costs, construction, timelines and action. However, Torgersen said there isn’t a plan in place yet; he is just coming to the council to see how they would like him to proceed.

The council, which had numerous questions and concerns, asked for the subject to come back to another work session in the near future. Until then, the severe drought is making area levees mostly unnecessary.