LEHIGH COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
Some three dozen law enforcement, fire and EMS leaders gathered March 26 and 27 to hone the critical decision-making skills that would be required for public safety organizations to effectively combat the unthinkable – a coordinated terror attack in the Lehigh Valley region.
The two-day course, certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was brought to the Lehigh Valley by Lehigh County Emergency Management officials and held in a classroom in the county’s Joint Operations Center, which also houses the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office and Forensics Center and Cetronia Ambulance facilities, 4350 Broadway, in the Cetronia area of Allentown.
Federal Emergency Management Agency certified trainers from the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at Louisiana State University led the two-day course designed to raise awareness that no community in the United States is immune from being a target for terror-minded groups.
The course is designed to provide first responders from multiple disciplines with skills to manage the initial response to a large-scale attack in a chaotic environment during a complex coordinated attack.
The course aim is to train responders how to use intuitive skills, such as observation, analysis, anticipation and awareness. The aim is to recognize the possibility of an attack involving multiple incidents of an extreme magnitude that inundate resources, exceed conventional tactics and strategies and often require a joint response involving members from multiple disciplines from local, county, state and national agencies to coordinate and integrate public safety response.
Trainees used several terror incidents from around the world to illustrate the devastation a coordinated attack can bring to a community or country.
A 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, involved the coordinated efforts by 10 terrorists, over six locations and resulted in 172 killed and hundreds wounded. It took four days for authorities to bring the attack under control.
The November 2015 attack in the City of Paris, involved nine terrorists who pulled off eight attacks in six locations within 26 minutes, leaving 130 killed and 400 wounded.
The attack September 11, 2001 in the United States, involved multiple targets and resulted in the loss of the World Trade Center towers, a portion of the Pentagon and left thousands dead and wounded.
The common thread of each surprise attack was chaos, overwhelmed response and a sense of bewilderment about what was happening.
Course trainees spent considerable time stressing the importance of early-on awareness that as multiple threats unfold, questions need to be posed as to “what’s next?” and what resources are needed to provide an effective response to “stop the death, stop the bleeding and stop the destruction.”
“The people who plan these attacks are not stupid,” lead trainer Daniel Breda said. “They spend months and years planning their destruction. Their objectives are to overwhelm resources, target responders and wreak the maximum havoc they can – often within 30 minutes of the initial attack.
Trainers presented a number of complex simulations that bore the coordinated attack hallmarks, then supervised several small-group tabletop exercises designed to bring multiple disciplines into a coordinated response mode that could effectively combat the terror being brought to bear.
Course participant Donald Sabo, Salisbury Township Police Department sergeant in charge of investigations and special services, said the training provides great value to area law enforcement agencies. “The course emphasizes the need to be continually progressive and at times think ‘outside the box,’” Sabo said.
“The training,” he said, “reinforces the viewpoint of a collaborative working relationship with both private and public agencies and reaffirms the relationships and partnerships we have with many surrounding departments at the local, county and regional level.
“In the event of a major emergency, these relationships will help foster a cohesive strategy that could pay dividends for years to come.”
Lehigh County Emergency Management Training and Operations Coordinator Jonathan Al-Khal said he received a number of positive feedback comments after the two-day course. He said feedback indicated the training helped strengthen partnerships that have developed over time among the area’s first-responding agencies.