Preparing tor the Worst

Preparing tor the Worst

County department has gone through awareness training.

Preparing for the worst is nothing new to Daryl Louder. It might be to the general public, but for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, training began long before 9/11.

"We have been working on this type of emergency preparedness since 1993,” said Louder, battalion chief and program manager, Hazardous Materials Response Team. "We didn't wait for the Twin Towers, the Pentagon or Oklahoma City or even Tokyo.

"We have been training for a variety of scenarios. And we have developed various procedures," he assured. "In fact we were running a large-scale exercise on Sept. 8, 2001, three days before the attacks."

When it comes to equipment, Louder said the county has been fortunate. "The county has purchased very robust equipment for chemical agents. But our biological equipment is not as high-tech."

The department has developed sophisticated procedures for decontamination. "We have 12 decon units spread across the county. They are situated close to hospitals and other emergency sites," he said. "Tokyo had 5,000 people show up at hospitals after the attack on their subway system."

AT PRESENT THERE ARE three units with specialized equipment and materials for decontamination located at Edsel Road, McLean, and on Richmond Highway at the Penn Daw station. The latter is a hazmat satellite center. All medical units have chemical protective gear. They can enter a triage area and decontaminate on-site.

"Our satellite hazmat unit here has received heightened training to deal with emergency situations," said John J. Caussin Jr., battalion chief for Penn Daw. "Our paramedics have the proper equipment to protect themselves while treating others in case of either a biological or chemical attack."

Caussin confirmed, "We have been communicating with the Israelis to gain insight how to deal with this type of warfare. A lot of it resembles basic civil defense as taught during the Cold War."

According to Louder, "The whole Northern Virginia region has adopted an incident-response command system. We have been doing training with other jurisdictions and the federal agencies."

An example of this was Operation Furies conducted at the Federal Court House in Alexandria last month. This involved not only the Alexandria Police and Fire departments but the U.S. Marines, FBI, U.S. Marshals and others.

"We have also been coordinating with the police and health departments, as well as others, to create a joint operations approach," Louder said. "We have worked very closely with Inova Health System and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital."

ONE OF THE PRIMARY pieces of new equipment is a portable infrared (IR) unit to detect hazard materials. It is about the size of a suitcase and works with a laptop computer. Each costs in the $50,000 range.

"We are in the process of purchasing radiation detection units and personnel protective equipment for each of our mobile units out in the field. These would help with any dirty bomb situation," Louder said.

"The entire department has gone through awareness and operations training. This training also helps us for other types of situations," Louder said.

Louder noted that many elements of emergency preparedness training and money spent on specialized equipment are applicable to regular emergency situations. It is not limited to terrorism. "The principles are the same whether dealing with a train wreck, hazardous materials from a spill, or what have you," he pointed out.

Two of the field decontamination units are located in the Mount Vernon and Lee districts — one at Woodlawn and another at Kingstowne. Louder emphasized that there is regular coordination with units at Fort Belvoir.

"We do specific training for each type of event because the antibodies necessary and instrumentation requirements are very different for each case," Louder explained. "We have sent more than 100 people to federal training programs."

THESE TRAINING programs are located throughout the nation. There is an explosive school in New Mexico and a radiological testing and training school in Nevada. Each of these programs is under the sponsorship of the federal government, according to Louder.

"Although the federal government pays for the training and all travel and expenses while the personnel are there, the county has to pay for someone to fill that position while the person is away," Louder said.

As for personal preparedness, Louder urged common sense. "Listen to emergency preparedness specialists and take reasonable precautions. The same you would take for any emergency whether it was a flood, hurricane, toxic spill or whatever," he noted. "The public should always be prepared for any emergency."

Louder specified, "The public needs to know we are doing all we can to protect them and be ready for any event. But we need their help in preparing themselves as well. This is an ongoing process."

CAUSSIN VERIFIED that analysis by noting, "We are operating with a heightened awareness. We know we have been under surveillance for the past six weeks. Our preparedness capabilities are being observed. The FBI has been alerted."

He added, "The Mount Vernon and Lee districts have a lot of historical properties and critical sites. We are particularly on the alert in this area."

Caussin emphasized, "The public should be on the alert to report anything they see that might be suspicious. We're maintaining a whole intelligence file that is updated constantly. In the current environment you can't take anything for granted."