First Responders: To Fight Terror, Cross-Training Needed
By Stew Magnuson and Matthew Rusling
If terrorists stage a large-scale strike on a major city, police, firefighters and other first responders may not simultaneously converge on the scene.
Police could arrive first, but might have to wait for fire companies to bring emergency medical equipment. In a chemical attack, decontamination units would come later, meaning those first on the scene may succumb to toxic fumes.
That is why first responders should be “cross trained” to deal with emergency situations outside their purview, said Lt. Gregory Bennett, of the Middlesex County, N.J., sheriff’s office. He spoke at the GovSec conference in Washington, D.C.
The scene of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack would be chaotic, with emergency responders setting up shop everywhere in the city. Confusion would reign, and special units may be miles away from where they are needed, he said.
To prepare for this, police should be able to use such equipment as oxygen tanks and protective gear that typically is employed by firefighters. Officers are expected to take charge in an emergency, but they have at times run unprotected into burning buildings, only to become victims instead of rescuers, Bennett said. “We’ve seen law enforcement arrive on the scene and not be adequately prepared to deal with everything.”
Firefighters, conversely, should protect themselves by wearing bulletproof vests, he said.
So far, no state has mandated such training or provided equipment, and there are no federal government initiatives in the works. State governments would have to pay for it, Bennett said.
Some local authorities have taken it upon themselves to coordinate training with other agencies. In Bennett’s county, for example, there is an initiative to equip firefighters with radiological indicators — devices usually carried by hazardous materials crews. And elsewhere in New Jersey, police are being trained to defuse bombs.
Still, many departments nationwide have not conducted such training, leaving emergency agencies vulnerable, Bennett said.
“If you are not prepared for what comes up, you cannot be effective,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”