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Police, Fire and Citizens: A Community Approach

Emergency preparedness is not just geared to terrorism. It should be an ongoing part of everyday life ā€” individually and in the working world.

That was the message brought to the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce by Capts. Larry Moser and Jim Morris, chiefs of the Mount Vernon and Franconia police stations, respectively. "Timely emergency preparedness is something both the Fairfax County Police and Fire and Rescue departments were ahead of the curve on," Moser said.

"Several years ago, on a push from the fire department, we applied for grants to deal with threats from weapons of mass destruction," Moser told the Chamber members assembled at the Old Country Buffet on Richmond Highway for their monthly First Tuesday Business Lunch.

"We began training for special situations well before the need arose. We sent 300 officers to D.C. to help with demonstration control and inauguration. They were deputized as U.S. Marshals," Moser explained.

"This prepared us for the demands of today, particularly in the art of communications. Being able to talk jurisdiction to jurisdiction is still a challenge. But it has greatly improved," he said.

Following an introduction by Dan Rinzel, the Chamber's vice president, Moser spoke to the preparation and equipment of the police department, while Morris addressed the issue of how individual citizens and business people can help in emergency preparedness and crisis planning.

BOTH SPECIFIED that it is always a joint effort, whether it deals with terrorism or a natural disaster. "But," they cautioned, "there is no need to panic. Just use good common sense. Take the necessary precautions, and make the necessary preparations."

Morris emphasized, "Everyone is compelled to think about things they didn't 10 years ago. But crisis planning is not limited to terrorism. It applies to floods, storms, major accident, any circumstance that requires emergency action.

"We've made an extra effort in recent months to increase our contacts with critical businesses. As business leaders you have additional responsibilities - to your businesses and your employees," Morris said.

Moser acknowledged that police and fire training is based on dealing with the "worst nightmare along with cross training with other departments and jurisdictions." He also noted both the police and fire departments are working hard to lessen the sense of heightened anxiety within their personnel.

"There are things happening in the world that are changing the role of the police officer in society. We've changed the way we police. But we need to be very strong partners with you," he told the assembled business leaders.

"We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to strengthen our relationships. You can't stop trying to identify potential threat areas and situations," he urged.

Morris encouraged the audience members to not hesitate to alert police to suspicious situations. "It's the citizen who is in the community on a day-to-day basis. You see and hear things we don't. You notice changes," Morris stressed.

He also specified that as business leaders they have additional responsibilities in making sure they have emergency plans in place. Some of these included the following:

* An evacuation plan for employees;

* An internal communications plan;

* A pre-established central meeting place in case of emergency; and

* Ways to keep their businesses going.

MORRIS ALSO SPOKE to the group as parents. "Schools need to have a crisis management plan," he said. One of those plans recently established is known as Shelter In Place.

"School systems have established this in case of a biohazard near the school. It keeps the contaminants from getting into the building and reduces the risk of exposure to students and school personnel," he said.

"The school is closed, and no one is allowed in or out. Some parents complained when they first heard of it but then realized it was for the safety of their children. It's based on the premise the threat can be dealt with quickly and effectively. They aren't going to be in there for days," Morris explained.

Moser noted, "This area is the best-prepared in the nation. Both our equipment and training are some of the best. And that's extremely important."

Returning to the point that emergency preparedness is ongoing, Morris said, "This isn't a special focus because of Iraq or anthrax. It's crisis planning no matter what."

Both men emphasized, "As families, as citizens, as business leaders, we all need to plan. But," Moser stressed, "the best plan is only as good as it is effective."