Cities responding to 9/11 'wake-up call'
(CNN) -- As one city's emergency management coordinator put it, September 11 was "a wake-up call."
Terrorism preparedness has become a top priority. Whether it be training, equipment or communications, "more" and "better" are the buzzwords for cities.
The six U.S. cities ranked as "less prepared" in a CNN.com analysis of the 30 largest cities in the weeks after September 11 -- Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Las Vegas, Nevada; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- report they have taken steps to increase their readiness for a possible attack and its aftermath.
Since September 11, Boston officials said they have conducted a thorough review of the city's emergency management procedures and reorganized some operations to focus on preparedness. The city's Emergency Management Agency, which falls under the fire department, has been enhanced and is "dedicated solely to emergency management," said Paul Christian, Boston's fire commissioner.
Boston's citywide emergency notification system has been upgraded, Christian said, with new software in place to handle special events. Public safety officials also are working more closely with the U.S. Coast Guard on port security issues.
Christian said the fire department has undertaken a "total review" of its security, facilities and procedures. It also has worked with public health officials to upgrade its capabilities for anthrax and bioterror detection and response. One fire department company is devoted entirely to hazardous material work.
In the critical area of communications, city officials said they are taking the first steps to review protocol and interoperability among departments.
"We certainly see the need for sharing intelligence, sharing communication, but we want to control communications. ... We don't want people going to information overload," Christian said, adding that the city's safety agencies are well-practiced at working with each other on annual events such as the Boston Marathon and the visit of Tall Ships to Boston Harbor.
Officials in Detroit developed a homeland security strategy by reviewing emergency operations plans and identifying potential targets, said John Abbo, the city's acting emergency management coordinator.
Potential targets in the area are numerous; Detroit is a major economic engine as home to the "Big Three" U.S. automakers, and it is on the U.S.-Canada border with Windsor, Ontario. Three bridges lead into Detroit.
The security strategy is a collaborative effort among the U.S. Customs Service, Detroit/Windsor Bridge and Tunnel Authority, first responders on both sides of the border and U.S. Coast Guard, Abbo said. It includes joint training and exercises among the agencies.
A hotline also was established for boaters on area waterways to report suspicious activity, Abbo said.
City agencies are working on communication. Abbo said the city's police and fire departments and emergency medical service personnel are training with radios that allow cross-agency contact, although the radios are only assigned to incident commanders.
Detroit also established a task force of various department heads who provide strategic and tactical advice to the mayor on homeland security-related issues. The task force has been in contact with the local FBI office, Abbo said.
In the bioterrorism area, Detroit has stepped up planning, joint training and exercises among hospitals, health departments and the Veterans Hospital Authority for biohazard and weapons of mass destruction emergencies.
Las Vegas has worked toward completing its federal preparedness training, city officials said. The city has conducted its biological "tabletop" exercise and will complete the federal program September 19 with a full-scale field exercise.
"It's going to entail a simulated chemical attack," said Tim McAndrew, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management. "But rather than a traditional tabletop exercise ... we actually deploy the crews out into the field."
McAndrew said firefighters, police, paramedics and public works employees will take part in the exercise, along with representatives from more than 10 area hospitals.
The city also is part of the federal Metropolitan Medical Response System, a program which seeks to coordinate law enforcement and medical and rescue personnel to improve response in the case of terrorist attacks, and has received approval for its plan from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McAndrew said.
Las Vegas officials said they also have been working with Nevada officials to develop a statewide plan for the receipt and dispersal of a CDC pharmaceutical stockpile.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department includes a homeland security officer who works with the FBI joint terrorism office in the city, said Jim O'Brien, chairman of the Las Vegas emergency planning committee.
McAndrew said the city's casinos and resorts are "fully engaged" as members of the emergency planning committee. Las Vegas police have conducted workshops with businesses, and the city has reached out to utilities and private businesses to discuss "very specific security and terrorism-related issues," he said.
"We're well-equipped," McAndrew said. "We would be taxed, as would any large metropolitan area that would take an event of any size significance. But we're well-prepared."
The city has developed a proposed plan called Alternate Mass Care, said Dr. Seth Foldy, Milwaukee's health commissioner. The plan, based around a secure Web site, aims to enable local doctors to provide uniform care in the event of a terrorist attack, freeing up hospitals and emergency rooms to treat those most in need.
Foldy said the city and Milwaukee County have well-established public health surveillance plans after dealing with a cryptosporidium outbreak that affected 400,000 people in 1993, a rash of heat-related deaths in 1995 and an E. coli outbreak in 2000.
Terrorism and bioterrorism response training is ongoing for county employees, and equipment purchases have been eased by a greater availability of funding. The county recently got $329,000 from the state of Wisconsin for terrorism response equipment, said Carl Stenbol, assistant director for the Milwaukee County Division of Emergency Management.
Stenbol describes emergency preparedness as a continual process, noting that the county's terrorism response plan is reviewed as new technologies, methodologies and training become available.
"Certainly after 9/11, there was an additional heightening in reviewing security measures, things of that nature," he said. "But we have always had in place -- as part of the emergency management, emergency planning structure -- things for mass casualties, things for human services and crisis counseling."
New Orleans has received a federal grant as part of the Metropolitan Medical Response System program, which will include training and acquisition of equipment and pharmaceuticals, said Terry Tullier, a deputy fire chief and interim director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Tullier also said New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has indicated he wants to create a position for homeland security within the city government.
In February, New Orleans faced a big security challenge when it hosted the Super Bowl. Forty-nine different agencies were involved, and all worked closely together, including agencies that previously had been "reluctant to even talk to each other on a day-to-day basis," Tullier said.
Its status as a port city gives New Orleans additional cause for concern: the possibility of an attack from the water. The city's harbor police added an anti-terrorism task force, said Cynthia Swain, director of emergency preparedness for the Port of New Orleans.
"Because it came from the air [on September 11] and the ports are vulnerable, any knowing terrorist could do a lot of damage to affect commerce by causing some problems on the water or with the maritime industry," Swain said. "We're very cognizant and always have been cognizant of that fact."
Philadelphia police have increased security at city buildings and created an anti-terrorism task force, with an intelligence section and a training and planning side.
"We have seven detectives living with the FBI," said Mike Nucci, the city's director of emergency management. The detectives are collaborating on work and collecting intelligence, Nucci said.
The city has increased training for contamination teams, which are part of its Metropolitan Medical Response System program. The fire department already had a hazardous material team with equipment to deal with weapons of mass destruction, Nucci said.
Philadelphia's health department has stepped up efforts to increase cooperation and information-sharing among hospitals. Since September 11, 2001, the effort has been accelerated and become more computerized.
The city also has added resources to airport security and increased coordination within local government as well as with the large federal presence in the city, Nucci said.
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