Panic on the Potomac

Coast Guard: "Shots fired" on Potomac was just a training exercise

Mistaken reports of the Coast Guard firing on a "suspicious vessel" in the Potomac River panicked D.C.-area residents and officials today as President Obama made his way to a nearby Sept. 11 commemoration.

The incident, which proved to be a routine training exercise in which no shots were fired, nonetheless exposed the jitters of a nation as it recalled the terror attacks of eight years ago.

CNN broke into its scheduled programming to report on radio traffic announcing that the Coast Guard fired 10 rounds at a vessel in the Potomac.The report on CNN sent FBI agents scrambling to the scene.  Coast Guard Vice Admiral John Currier said that, due to press reports, the FAA temporarily grounded a number of planes at Reagan National Airport until they could sort out the situation.

"This is routine training for us and we train everyday," Coast Guard spokesman John Edwards told the Associated Press. Edwards said that as part of its "routine" exercise Friday, the Coast Guard aired simulated instructions over a "training frequency" to participants to fire 10 rounds at a boat on the river between the 14th Street and Memorial bridges.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs ripped CNN hours later, scolding that, "Before we report things like this, checking would be good."

When asked if the public should have been notified the drill was taking place, Gibbs was sarcastic.

"If anybody was unnecessarily alarmed based on erroneous reporting that denoted that shots had been fired, I think everybody is apologetic about that," Gibbs said.

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