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NEWS ANALYSIS: First Responders’ Preparation for WMD Attack Still Lagging

Posted by kinchendavid on September 1, 2006

By Jim Kouri
Special to DavidKinchen.com

America’s first line of defense in any terrorist attack is the “first responder” community — local police, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals. Properly trained and equipped first responders have the greatest potential to save lives and limit casualties after a terrorist attack.

Currently, capabilities for responding to a terrorist attack vary widely across the country. Many areas have little or no capability to respond to terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. Even the best prepared states and localities do not possess adequate resources to respond to the full range of terrorist threats we face.

There are over 1 million firefighters in the United States, of which approximately 750,000 are volunteers. Local police departments have an estimated 556,000 full-time employees including about 436,000 sworn enforcement personnel. Sheriffs’ offices reported about 291,000 full-time employees, including about 186,000 sworn personnel. There are over 155,000 nationally registered emergency medical technicians (EMT).

Terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere. Crop dusters, power generating plants, dams and reservoirs, crops, livestock, trains and highways are among the resources that could be targets. Homeland security in the heartland is just as important as homeland security in America’s largest cities.

First responders from communities outside major metropolitan areas who must protect large geographic areas with small populations face many response challenges. In fact, over half of the nation’s firefighters protect small or rural communities of fewer than 5,000 people. Many of these communities rely upon volunteer departments with scarce resources.

Fewer than 10% of counties surveyed by the National Association of Counties said they are prepared to respond to a bioterrorism attack. One of the best strategies to build capability in communities outside major metropolitan areas is to develop mutual aid agreements to share resources.

First responders from smaller communities need assistance in organizing and developing the unified command and control procedures and protocols necessary for operationally sound mutual aid. These agreements will enable neighboring jurisdictions to share specialized resources, rather than duplicate them in every jurisdiction.

As an established mechanism for sharing or pooling limited resources to augment existing capabilities and supplementing jurisdictions that have exhausted existing resources due to disaster, mutual aid processes will help ensure that jurisdictions across the United States can benefit from each other’s efforts to enhance their first response capabilities. Jurisdictions can use the funding provided under this initiative to create or improve their response capabilities, without duplicating their efforts.

Many areas have little or no capability to respond to terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. Even the best prepared areas of the country do not possess adequate resources to respond to the full range of terrorist threats we face.

Citizens Pitch in to Help

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have looked for and found many opportunities to help in their communities. President Bush created the USA Freedom Corps in an effort to capture those opportunities and foster an American culture of service, citizenship and responsibility.

These volunteers are especially important in smaller communities where resources may be limited. Citizen Corps is the arm of USA Freedom Corps that provides opportunities for citizens that want to help make their communities more secure. Since the President made his call to two years of volunteer service during his State of the Union address, there have been more than 1.6 million hits to the new http://www.citizencorps.gov web site.

Almost 24,000 Americans from all 50 states and US territories have volunteered to work with one or more of the Citizen Corps programs.

More than 15,000 volunteers are looking to be trained in emergency response skills through the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Community Emergency Response Team program. Almost 7,000 volunteers have signed up to get involved in Neighborhood Watch activities in their communities. More than 15,000 potential volunteers have expressed interest in the new Volunteers in Police Service and Operation TIPS programs being developed by the US Department of Justice.

In addition, more than 5,000 potential volunteers have expressed an interest in joining a Medical Reserve Corps in their community as part of a program being developed by the Department of Health and Human Services to tap the skills of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in times of community crisis.

Sources: US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Association of Counties, National Association of Chiefs of Police, American Federation of Police, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Federal Emergency Management Administration, US Department of Justice, American Federation of Police & Concerned Citizens

* * * *

Jim Kouri is fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s a former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. Kouri has appeared as on-air commentator for more than 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc.  Kouri’s website is located at http://jimkouri.U.S.

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