Changes in emergency response since 9/11

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Training, awareness key to local response

Many things have changed in the world since Sept. 11, 2001.

After terrorists hijacked four planes, crashing two into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the The Pentagon, and the other crashed in a Pennsylvania field, passengers must now be screened for weapons and/or explosives prior to boarding an aircraft. Laptops have to be taken out of carrying cases or out of carry-on bags as passengers go through the x-ray scanners at airport security. Smaller electronics will also have to be screened by the x-ray machine, so mobile phones and other electronics will have to be taken out of pockets or purses for screening.

Passengers are required to arrive two hours before their scheduled departure, and perish the thought if one is carrying a Swiss Army Knife, a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 or a Magic 8 Ball in their carry-on luggage. Those are Transportation Security Administration (TSA) no-nos, as are hockey sticks and pool cues.

Other changes in the way emergency personnel respond to a mass injury or casualty crisis is the formation of National Response Plans and Incident Management Systems under the umbrella of Homeland Security. This ensures every state, county and municipality have a plan of action in place for events ranging from school evacuations to plane crashes and chemical leaks, where large numbers of the local population may be at risk.

Some efforts include training ambulance and hospital personnel in preparing large intake areas, triage management, decontamination areas and even using temporary morgues.

Locally, personnel at the Barry-Lawrence County Ambulance District undergo annual training in mass casualty incidents, exercises are often hosted in conjunction with large scale industry partners, area fire departments and local hospitals.

“Currently, we do train for small and large scale mass casualty incidents during our educational offerings one quarter per year,” said Valerie Wilson, operations chief with BLCAD. “I was not at BLCAD when 9/11 happened and was not in EMS full time, so I am not aware of most of those changes.”

Monett Police Chief George Daoud was working with the department when 9/11 occurred, and while most of the nation remained on high alert for the next several weeks and months, officers kept a keen eye out for any unusual activity that might be taking place.

“Monett Police Department was aware of the potential for additional targets and took appropriate action to identify and protect critical infrastructure,” Daoud said. “We realized SWMO was not part of the initial targets but did not make any assumptions as to what extent targeted areas could be expanded to.”

In the following weeks, with the threat alert rising or dropping by the day, communication between state and municipal levels were occurring daily, with local departments making the operational decisions.

“We had no intelligence indicating a direct threat to this area,“ Daoud said. “Monett Police Department had Special Response Team with trained members and has some critical-incident training. Our biggest lack, department and nation-wide, was information collection and distribution. There was little in [the way of] formalized avenues to share and receive relevant information. We now have specially trained personnel in counterterrorism and formal networks between federal, state, and local law enforcement.”

Although local officials did not believe there was any reason for terrorists to attack southwest Missouri, the department did patrol all potential targets in that any are a potential target for “terrorism.”

“Terrorism is defined as ‘the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims,’ according to Oxford, and so any location where people congregate is a potential target. Food, water, and electricity [are] a potential target; but the destruction of such infrastructure would likely be calculated to bring the most violence to the largest number of people. While there are no specified concerns for our area, our department coordinates with state and federal agencies to share relevant information on events and acts that could be related to, or exploited by terrorist actors.”

Daoud credits good working relationships with other area agencies in helping prepare emergency responders for any critical event that may occur, whether attributed to terrorism or not.

“Our city enjoys good working relations with county and state entities, such as the Monett City Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, local and state emergency management officers, and neighboring law enforcement, that would respond to any Critical Incident,” Daoud said.

While some may feel that citizens across the nation have grown complacent in the years following the attacks, Daoud has a different point of view.

“I do not believe we have become complacent, but have recognized that it is another factor we consider in our daily lives,” he said. “Just as people have become to accustomed to the danger of operating a 2,000-pound vehicle at 60+ m.p.h. every day, they have become accustomed to the idea that this could happen again.”

Fire departments have also implemented changes in the way they respond to critical incidents.

Monett Fire Chief John Vincent recalls his co-workers having concerns about the scope of the attacks.

“I feel like we all had a great concern that other areas would be targeted possibly even rural areas like ours,” he said. “There were meetings and alerts put out to all fire/first responders. Daily duties were not affected so much, but everyone became much more observant and aware of our surroundings.”

Since that time, fire service has put more emphasis on hazardous materials and explosives training.

“Everyone has to be trained in the National Incident Management System now, which covers incident command for large scale events.”

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