Saturday, December 03, 2005

City flunks terror test -

City flunks terror test - PittsburghLIVE.comThere's no value in hashing over it,' DeMichiei said.
Think again! There is value in hashing over it. There is value in thinking again.

I'm a coach. I love drills. We do drills all the time.

The little tykes (i.e., ages 6, 7) I coach in the swimming pool can do these frestyle drills: Catch-up, side kicking, zig-zag 9 (sculling), thumb-in-arm-pit, finish-up, alternate breathing, to name a few.

Seems to me that the Pittsburgh police force should be able to set up a mobile command center in a time of a major emergency at a suitable location.

Practice makes perfect, is the old saying that is very popular. Frankly, I don't buy into that slogan at all. Only perfect practice makes perfect. And, the high school kids I coach get that drilled into them.


Anonymous said...

City flunks terror test

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By Richard Byrne Reilly
Saturday, December 3, 2005

A preliminary U.S. Department of Homeland Security report criticizes city and county emergency response to a simulated terrorist attack at PNC Park in May -- particularly Pittsburgh police -- for communication problems and for moving a mobile command post inside police headquarters.

The report, not yet published but released to select federal, state and city department heads in September, faults police and fire response times, operational difficulties among agencies, and communication glitches between responding emergency crews. It also says Pittsburgh hospitals were somewhat unprepared to handle a surge of patients.

"There's room for improvement," but the report also highlights some strengths demonstrated by agencies in Pittsburgh, said Michael Forgy, branch chief of Homeland Security's domestic affairs office, who oversaw the exercise and compiled the report.

"That's why we have (drills), to learn what went well and what didn't," Forgy said. "It's a big learning experience for everybody."

City and county officials agree with some but not all of the findings, and will prepare a rebuttal before a final report is released publicly next month, said Raymond DeMichiei, the city's deputy director for emergency management.

More than 6,000 civilian volunteers and about 400 federal, state and local authorities took part in the May 7 exercise that simulated a suicide attacker detonating a bomb in the ballpark. An ambulance ostensibly carrying the poison gas Sarin exploded as a secondary sneak attack, aimed to maim or kill people responding to the first explosion.

The event was billed as the largest terror exercise in the United States since 9/11.

The preliminary report was not given to Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, said his spokesman Kevin Evanto. Mayor Tom Murphy's office could not be reached.

Portions of the report reviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized city police for several mistakes -- among them, failing to notify Port Authority of Allegheny County police that the second explosion occurred, a serious breach of communications protocol.

Forgy said radio communication problems between hazmat, fire, emergency medical service and police crews need to be addressed. For example, a police officer inside the park could not communicate with his colleagues stationed outside, Forgy said.

Some of the radios in use that day were new, and people were still learning how to use them properly, said Alan Hausman, equipment manager for the Region 13 counter-terrorism task force in Western Pennsylvania.

Another problem, Hausman said, was that while responding crews were searching for explosive devices, no one was protecting decontamination areas for victims of the attack.

The report also singled out Pittsburgh police for their handling of a mobile command post -- two recreational vehicles outfitted with computers, telephones, fax machines and radios -- that coordinated communications between agencies. Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. ordered the command post to operate from an indoor conference room at the North Side police headquarters.

"For the sake of the exercise, you can't set up a command post across town," said Forgy.

Fire and EMS crews kept the command post mobile when they operated it. DeMichiei approached McNeilly during the event about the problem of parking the unit more than a mile away.

"It was a misunderstanding that was fixed. There's no value in hashing over it," DeMichiei said.

McNeilly did not return phone messages seeking comment.

DeMichiei said he doesn't agree with criticisms that some of the county's hospitals were not adequately prepared to deal with a sudden influx of victims. The evaluators did not understand the nuances of how the county operates and communicates, versus how federal agencies think things should be done, he said.

The report identified nine key strengths, including the way PNC Park employees handled thousands of people and the strong relationships between government officials, DeMichiei said.

The exercise cost nearly $900,000, most of it paid by state grants. The federal government paid the rest.

Richard Byrne Reilly can be reached at or (412) 380-5625.

Rob said...

You used Ray's quote out of context. He was not saying there was no point in hashing over the entire exercise. What he's saying was that there was a mistake with the Police command post due to a misunderstanding, and that it was corrected during the incident. It will not happen again. They already learned that lesson.

Ray is a good guy, and he knows the value of this exercise. That's why he put so much work into it, and that's why he had virtually no voice left on the day of the drill!

I'd also like to point out that I pointed out the problem with the decon area and the bomb in my blog back in May.

Finally, is the comment by "Anonymous" really "fair use"?

Mark Rauterkus said...

Thanks for the insights.

I think that the quote didn't reflect poorly on the people -- but it was a concept. It was a hook to talk about practice. We do practices here for the strangest reasons -- not for the quest of what is really necessary. And, that comes, in part, to stroke politicians.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Fair use, in the context of the entire newspaper, plus with a link to the original source, plus, with the more hidden article, plus with the capacity to have a hot story then PULLED from web sites by local media in these parts (i.e. Biz Times has done it to me) -- and with 2,178 posts on this blog -- and in the course of life of a candidate for public office --

Yeah, I'd say it is fair use.