First Responders Offer Ways to Improve Local Response to Terrorism

Aug. 1, 2003
At the conclusion of a three-day conference this week on local response to terrorism, state, local and other first responders shared with federal homeland security officials a number of ways local preparedness could be improved.

The conference, "Local Response to Terrorism: Lessons Learned from the 9/11 Attack on the Pentagon," was held July 28-30 in Arlington, Va. It brought together more than 900 local, state and federal officials to learn from Arlington's experiences. Arlington's team approach has been hailed as the "model for the nation" for local response to terrorism.

Recommendations made to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Office of Domestic Preparedness officials in the closing session of the conference include:

Regional coordination

  • Form mutual-aid agreements and memorandums of understanding beyond public safety agencies well in advance
  • Educate and implement incident command/unified command models across response agencies and organizations
  • Build relationships that ensure the ability to sustain operations over extended periods


  • Develop national standards for training and exercises
  • Increase regional/national training sites and mobile training teams
  • Tie grants to development, training and exercises of regional plans


  • Establish regional communication and information systems
  • Develop and implement standards and protocols for communications equipment and software

"A key message of this conference is that first responders must build relationships long before a disaster strikes," said James Schwartz, Arlington's emergency services manager. "Teamwork is essential. Every local jurisdiction must rely on many partners, public and private, local, state, regional, federal and others."

Arlington's 9/11 response benefited from the regional relationships that existed for years before the attack. Equally important is the relationship forged between the FBI and the local first responders prior to the events.

"Shame on us if we're meeting for the first time on the scene of a crisis," said John Perren, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington field office. Emergency responders should already know each other, trust each other and constantly be educating each other as to what their roles are, he added.

Earlier in the conference, breakout sessions provided an opportunity for emergency managers, fire and EMS personnel, police and city/county managers to brainstorm solutions to improving their responses. Among them are:

  • Recognizing that terrorism will not be a local event and will require responses that are regional and multi-jurisdictional; plans and funding should reflect this regionalism.
  • Integrating and using the non-traditional resources that exist in communities, such as military, public health and educational institutions.
  • Planning, training and conducting exercises across jurisdictions and establishing and using common terminology.
  • Providing funding for real-time training with all responders and hospitals.
  • Insuring that the information flow about an incident is all-encompassing: neighboring jurisdictions, non-emergency response workers, the public and local officials should receive prompt and recurring information from authoritative sources.

Keynote speakers at the conference included Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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