Local First Responders Prepare

Local First Responders Prepare

As area residents prepared their homes in response to heightened terrorist threats, the local police and fire departments have also been forming strategies to combat disaster events. These steps have included re-training officers and employees, securing their buildings improving staff communication.

Yet despite the recent change from code yellow to code orange by the Department of Homeland Security, officers say that the steps they've taken to ensure the safety of their employees and the community have been in place since Sept. 11.

"I think we're best prepared as we can be," said Vienna police chief Bob Carlisle.

For the Vienna police department, the response to raised security concerns has meant more training for first responders as well as flashcard procedures on what to do in a disaster event. Should an event occur, whether the cause is man-made or natural, police would work in tandem with the fire department to direct citizens to safety. While firefighters would be first responders to the scene, police officers would assume the role of warning the public and directing traffic.

"We're going to have a common language," Carlisle said.

Other steps the Vienna police have taken include setting up a method to disseminate intelligence information efficiently and looking at different disaster scenarios.

"I think we're continuing business as usual," Carlisle said.

Vienna police are also working with other jurisdictions to revamp mutual aid agreements and coordinate training exercises. Having these joint activities helps the first responders to address a situation better.

"IT'S BETTER OFF if we look from a regional standpoint," said Tom Owens, assistant fire chief for Fairfax city's fire department. "We are locating our units in concert with each other."

While police have emphasized training, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department has worked on bettering internal communication and security. Steps the fire stations have taken include making sure all doors are closed, especially as soon as an engine leaves the garage, and keeping watch over the vehicles whenever the fire department responds to a call.

"We were basically being more cautious, more alert of our surroundings," said fire department public information officer Lt. Raul Castillo.

As area first response departments streamline communication and security, they suggest that citizens make their own personal preparations, as well as report any suspicious activity or persons to the police.

We have tremendous opportunity to preempt this thing from happening if we all work together," Carlisle said.