Attacks spurred changes in county

ST. MARYS — A local county official says the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, forced emergency personnel across Auglaize County to reassess its capabilities in the event of a local disaster.

“It created a lot of work for us,” Auglaize County EMA Director Troy Anderson said of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks a decade ago. “One was changing our plans and we updated a lot of plans.”

The county evolved from the standard preplanning to add protection against terrorism. To help county agencies cover costs associated with upgrading equipment and training, Anderson said a slew of grant programs became available through the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies.

“A bunch of grants came out for fire services,” Anderson said. “They were geared more toward looking at risk assessment and vulnerability in the communities and county and with that we looked at where our deficiencies were.”

Anderson said one of the county’s biggest deficiencies was in equipment. Through grants, local agencies were able to purchase large pieces of equipment as well as budget for maintenance costs.

“You could normally not afford it or the maintenance,” Anderson said. “By having these grants available, what came about was it allowed a department to buy the equipment and budget for the maintenance costs so you wouldn’t take that double of a large, up front cost plus maintenance.”

Additional personnel also joined the ranks of emergency responders through grants. Anderson said the additional manpower helped county agencies shore up their emergency response plans.

“We could apply for funding to hire additional personnel and they paid wages for four years and you have to continue to keep them,” Anderson said. “By doing that, they had four years to budget for it.”

The formation of a 14-person task force made up of individuals from across the county also followed. Anderson said this group helped assess the county’s deficiencies and developed plans to overcome the issues.

“We didn’t just buy equipment, we looked at the deficiencies and needs of the county,” Anderson said. “Based on those, we were asked to base risks on CBORNE — chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear and explosion, that had to do with terrorism. Do we have terrorists coming in from overseas — no. But we still could have the chance for domestic terrorism. When we looked at that, we were able to apply it to our day-to-day operations and the equipment we bought could handle big disasters.”

Another deficiency identified during the assessment process was in the area of interdepartmental communication. Anderson said old, outdated radios made communicating difficult at the scene of emergencies. To increase communication, upgraded radios, including MARCS radios, were purchased.

“By doing that, we are now able to talk to state agencies and across state lines,” Anderson said. “We used them when we had the local floods and tornado issues here.”

Communication regarding the assets of each department also increased in the wake of Sept. 11. Anderson said following the attacks, departments met and reviewed the county’s resources.

“Everyone was able to come together and find out what resources we had in the county,” Anderson said. “That’s one thing EMA is geared toward — tracking resources. Now it’s been overcome. You’ll see that when we do our exercises and everyone is working together and we know who to go to in our communities when we need something. We brought the schools and public utilities in and even the private sector. We are sharing information and before a lot of information wasn’t shared. Not that we didn’t want to share it, we just didn’t know who to share it with.”

Sept. 11 also touched Anderson on a personal level. As a volunteer firefighter for the St. Marys Township Fire Department, Anderson said he watched in disbelief the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as well as the crash in Shanksville, Pa.

“I was working that day and when it happened I was in disbelief that something like that could happen,” Anderson said, noting he was working in a local factory at the time. “It just seemed like it came to a standstill and we were glued to the TV and wondering how it could happen. We were supposed to be well prepared but we never thought of it.”

From an EMA standpoint, Anderson said Sept. 11 reinforced the need to be prepared for anything and to be able to respond quickly in order to save lives.

“We are taking the worst-case scenario that could happen in Auglaize County and looking at all kinds of hazards and trying to find the best outcome possible,” Anderson said. “The best thing we do is resource management. If something like that happens, we are the people these agencies go to to ask for assistance to get equipment and how to bring it in. That’s our job.”