Examining Safety at State, Local Levels

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  • Examining Safety at State, Local Levels

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Examining Safety at State, Local Levels

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<b>EMS director outlines city&#39;s disaster-response system</b>

By: Evelyn Ratigan
Posted: 4/20/07

As the efficiency of the emergency response system at Virginia Tech faces scrutiny, with critics saying the school was slow to notify its members of the attacks in which 32 people were killed on campus Monday, Boston&#39;s expert on emergency response systems said the city is prepared for a large-scale disaster.

Boston Emergency Medical Services Chief Richard Serino, detailing the city&#39;s strategy to a group of about 20 yesterday at Harvard University, said the city is focused on improving communication within departments and with the community.

"Everybody has to be involved in all the various parts of this," Serino said. "Communication is a huge issue. You don&#39;t want to be exchanging business cards at the scene of the disaster."

Serino cited Boston&#39;s historic landmarks, dense population and subway system as factors that make the city a top terrorist target. He said the city has been aware of this and has spent more than 25 years revising tactics in case of an emergency.

"Emergency preparedness is not something new for us," he said. "It&#39;s not just something we&#39;ve been looking at since 9-11."

Serino said the key to emergency preparedness is encouraging partnerships among the city&#39;s departments and private businesses, as well as the public services involved in the process. This collaboration has become "institutionalized" from years spent building these relationships, he said.

The BEMS constantly works with the Boston police and fire departments, the MBTA and other state and local agencies, he said. In addition, hospitals sharing staff members and enhanced radio communication systems linking state and local agencies coordinate first responders who would otherwise remain disconnected, he added.

Serino said high-profile events such as the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and the Boston Marathon are used to practice for emergencies, calling them "planned disasters." Monday&#39;s marathon, for example, allowed the BEMS to test its hospital tracking system to notify the families of the more than 500 runners hospitalized for exhaustion.

"In an emergency, one of the key things is communication with the injured," he said. "I think that we have to communicate whatever it is to the general public as well."

BEMS technicians also coordinate drills, including a recently staged evacuation on the MBTA&#39;s Red Line and a larger disaster simulation planned for this fall, he said.

Addressing the January bomb scare spurred by suspicious packages used in a Turner Broadcasting advertising campaign gone awry, Serino defended the city&#39;s reaction, which some called excessive.

"It wasn&#39;t just [circuit boards] scattered throughout the city," he said. "There were a lot of things that happened that day that a lot of people don&#39;t know."

Two devices resembling pipe bombs in Boston and an explosion on a bus in Washington, D.C. the same day had put Boston authorities on high alert, Serino said, adding the city and state agencies&#39; quick and unified reaction proved the emergency response system&#39;s effectiveness.

Maj. Patti Pettis, a weapons of mass destruction specialist from Atlanta, said she approves of Boston&#39;s constant scrutiny of its emergency response plans.

"The program will help find where the resources are and where the gaps are," she said.

Pettis said the public must understand the city&#39;s elaborate emergency response plans to be better prepared in the event of a disaster.

"It&#39;s up to the local community to be prepared," she said. "[At first], they&#39;re going to be on their own."

Pettis cited the Virginia Tech shootings as an example of failed communication Boston must avoid, and she said it is vital for first responders to inform the public of emergency situations to put them at ease and avoid mass panic.

"Communication makes all the difference," she said. "If everyone works together, you&#39;ll leave no gaps."

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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.dailyfreepress.com/media/storage/paper87/news/2007/04/20/News/Examining.Safety.At.State.Local.Levels-2871444.shtml>The Daily Free Press - April 20, 2007</a>

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Evelyn Ratigan

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The Daily Free Press

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2007-08-14

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Sara Hood

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Matt Negrin <editor@dailyfreepress.com>

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eng

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Evelyn Ratigan, "Examining Safety at State, Local Levels," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1037, http://april16archive.org/items/show/1037 (accessed November 23, 2014).