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Emergency Response Teams Increase Coordination Since 9/11

Emergency response teams have tried to increase the speed and coordination of their disaster response efforts in response to threats like 9/11.

  • Bloomington Hazmat

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    Photo: Joe Hren

    Members of the Bloomington Hazmat team prepare for the disaster drill.

  • Victime rescue

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    Photo: Joe Hren

    Hazmat responders pull the victim out of the ice arena during the disaster drill.

  • Rescue victim

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    Photo: Joe Hren

    Hazmat responders strap the victim to a sled to be taken to awaiting emergency personnel during the disaster drill.

  • Ice Arena meeting

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    Photo: Joe Hren

    First responders meet to discuss the disaster drill earlier that day.

Jeff Schemmer was working the console at Monroe County Central Dispatch the morning of September 11, 2001.  As reality set in on the disaster 800 miles away, Schemmer was beginning emergency response procedures in Bloomington.

“I’d say almost instantaneously everybody was sending out, ok, what happens if this occurs here?” Schemmer said. “Will we be ready? And let’s start moving in this direction to be prepared.”

His initial response was to be sure agencies were fully staffed. Monroe County Emergency Planning Committee Chairman John Hooker also went into emergency response mode.

“My thoughts were with the people in New York city, the responders, especially with them going inside,” he said. “You just don’t know what could happen.”

Hooker says 9/11 changed emergency preparedness planning in Indiana. State law requires emergency planning committees to test their emergency response plan once a year.

Responding To Today’s Disasters

A recent full-scale exercise at Bloomington’s Frank Southern Ice Arena included 10 agencies, 73 first responders and eight victims.  The simulated disaster in this case was an anhydrous ammonia release due to a failed pipe in the mechanical room.

The exercise started with a call to central dispatch and then the Bloomington Fire Department and HazMat team.

Schemmer says the one thing everybody learned after 9-11 is the importance of communication between agencies.

“In the last 10 years since that happened, that has been the big focus,” he said. “Everyone calls it inner-operability and the goal is that everybody that is responding to that scene is in communication with everybody so they all know what’s all going on.”

The exercise is also an opportunity for responders to meet their counterparts from different departments.

“We’ve never seen the machine room in the rink before so dealing with a real life situation like this is something we haven’t done in the real world,” said Caleb Hess, who was part of the entry team that went to examine the building to locate victims and perform rescue. “It was good to have the opportunity to see it and get some ideas of what we should do in a real scenario.”

Equipment such as Tack 5, a hazmat response vehicle, was purchased from grants that became available after 9/11. John Hooker said most of his time in the past decade has been spent trying to make sure the agencies get the proper equipment, training and resources.

“Since 2001 we had 16 homeland security schools here in Bloomington, and they were well attended,” he said.

Hooker said families can ready themselves for emergencies, too, including assembling an emergency preparedness kit at home, along with a plan of where to meet family member if something would happen.

Joe Hren

Anchor, Indiana Newsdesk - WTIU & WFIU News. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_Hren

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