Are You Better Prepared Now? Departments Respond to the Big Question

Billions of dollars have been delivered to beef up their mission capability.Recognizing that the events of September 11, 2001 unveiled real problems for first responders nationwide, federal, state and local governments have shown them the money...

Salt Lake City Fire Department -- Chuck Querry, Fire Chief

The Salt Lake City Fire Department is in a better position to handle a major crisis today in our community than we were five years ago for several reasons. First, the events of 9/11 forced us to review and renew all of our emergency plans, to develop new plans that deal with current threats, and strengthen relationships with partners in mutual and automatic aid agreements. Second, through grants, budgets, and other funding sources the fire department has received specialized training and equipment that would help it deal with a major crisis. We have updated communications, specialized rescue, and emergency preparedness. Third, we conducted many drills and training exercises that have increased our capabilities in major responses.

The worst case scenario for Salt Lake City would be the inability to make focused or localized announcements to the community for evacuations or stay-in-place scenarios. We lack an effective system to make quick and focused calls. Secondly, the city lacks a true emergency operations center. What is in place now would not be sufficient in a major crisis. Both of these issues are related to a lack of adequate funding.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department -- Chief Robert Palestrant, Acting Director Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security

We're in a better position for several reasons. Each event, man-made or natural is, or should be a learning experience, whether that event directly impacts our area or is halfway across the country. No community or response agency can fully utilize plans and procedures that were designed five or ten years ago due to ongoing changes in technology, the world’s political climate and the fact that every natural event continues to be different from the others. Our access to technological changes, advances in forecasting the weather, and increased ability to interact and communicate with other local response agencies, the State, and Federal government gives us an advantage that didn't exist a decade ago.

The worst case scenario for us would be a manmade disaster during a major event such as a NASCAR race or the Superbowl.

Columbus (Ohio) Division of Fire -- Karry L. Ellis, Assistant Chief, Fire Marshal, Fire Prevention Bureau

The Columbus, Ohio Division of Fire has greatly improved our ability to respond to crisis events since 9-11. We have purchased much new equipment, become more involved in local agencies with a counter-terrorism nexus, provided threat specific training, and conducted or participated in many multiple agency training operations.

In the equipment category, we have purchased all new SCBA, obtained anti-nerve agent drugs and carry them on all front-line apparatus, obtained a brand new Haz-Mat vehicle with an assortment of hi-tech sensors and personal protective ensembles, and upgraded our Bomb Squad capabilities especially with regards to VBIED's. Our Bomb Squad and Haz-Mat units are both are equipped with radiation sensors that can identify specific radioactive isotopes that are being released and the Haz Mat truck is equipped with a portable mass spectrometer. Every company officer on all 34 Engines, 16 Ladders, and five Heavy Rescues is equipped with a radiation pager. In our Logistics Center, we maintain pre-loaded skids of mass casualty supplies and PPE.

Within the Public Safety Department, our Communications Division is in the process of replacing all public safety forces walkie-talkie's, has added another tower to our 800mghz system, purchased an ACU-1000 radio system that can cross-patch disparate frequencies, and is purchasing a $1.1 million communication emergency response vehicle. Our communications system is shared with multiple agencies over the seven county metro area and has a 14 county regional paging capability; intercommunications ability has been good for years, but has been enhanced since 9-11.