The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the incidents following that terrible day have brought our country to a point where all communities must plan for their responses to these and other types of terrorism. The focus of the planning must change to a more practical way of addressing the concerns of the...
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The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the incidents following that terrible day have brought our country to a point where all communities must plan for their responses to these and other types of terrorism. The focus of the planning must change to a more practical way of addressing the concerns of the fire service and other public safety agencies.
There is no way anyone could remotely predict what happened in New York on that horrible day. The initial response was to a typical high-rise fire. Command posts were set up like they always were, and the brave firefighters who lost their lives responded just like they were trained to do.
This event, of course, became a mass-casualty incident (MCI) of a magnitude never seen in this country. Thousands of victims were killed and injured. In the following days, and weeks, many anthrax incidents literally closed down government offices and private-sector businesses.
Because of panic and an unfamiliarity in dealing with terrorism, especially involving biological and chemical events, hazardous materials teams and for that matter all fire departments were inundated with suspicious-powder calls that depleted the resources of even larger fire departments. Here in Miami, from Sept. 12 to Oct. 12, the City of Miami Fire Department responded to 2,700 suspicious calls. Some of these were credible threats, but most were just hysteria. The end result was the same - a depletion of usable resources in a short amount of time. Decontamination procedures never used in the past were not only time consuming, but equipment and manpower intensive as well.
I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on this very subject sponsored by the police department and other county agencies that was given by Dr. Henry J. Siegelson, MD, FACEP, of Disaster Planning International in Atlanta, who extensively covered the subject of community preparedness and response to the terrorist event. Some of the concepts mentioned here will be from that seminar. Siegelson looked at the whole community and stressed that a response to this type of event is not just the fire department and hospitals, but the community at large.
To plan for a terrorist event, the main concern is to focus on the plan, not the threat. In other words, a general plan should be formulated on how we will respond to ANY threat, not just a World Trade Center or anthrax type of incident. Most importantly, an MCI response should be the focal point of any response. This takes into consideration a potential large loss of life, and subsequent injuries as well. It encompasses the hospital response as well as the public safety response, and most importantly the complete community response.
Plan For The "Big One"
As a starting point we should look at the reaction to a terrorist event from all angles:
1. Psychology before the disaster. Until Sept. 11, 2001, and probably several months from now, a false sense of security will set in. "It won't ever happen again" will be the new thought as we get comfortable with a renewed sense of invulnerability. Another predominant thought is, "It won't happen to me." We have all seen this when fire departments ask for increases in their budgets, and the people say to themselves, "I won't have a fire in my house, I am too careful." Lastly, the thought will be, "It won't be that bad if it happens." But no one could imagined that four large jets would be hijacked and crashed into large important buildings. Even the Pentagon, the bastion of our national defense, was struck.
Now is the time to plan for the "big one," because it will happen again. It is not "if," it is just "when."
2. Psychology after the disaster. After the disaster, we concentrate on the attack itself - and like most humans, we close the barn door after the horse is gone. The concentration is how to prevent the attack and not how to address a new threat. We must look at the type of event in a new perspective, a "generic" threat potential.