Tuesday, July 09, 2002

County aims to be ready for disaster

By Dan Klepal, dklepal@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County is likely to get about $300,000 from the federal government this year to beef up its homeland security muscle.

        Don Maccarone, the county's director of emergency management, said Monday that Ohio is in line for about $10 million in homeland security funding and should pass $250,000 to $300,000 of that to the county.

        The money will likely be spent on equipment that would help protect so-called first responders at the scene of a natural or man-made disaster.

        But Mr. Maccarone, with the help of fire and police chiefs, has determined that nearly $50 million worth of equipment is needed.

        “That is 2002 money,” Mr. Maccarone said of the $10 million Ohio is to receive. “The '03 money is still being developed. How much Hamilton County receives will largely depend on how much of the president's homeland security budget is passed.”

        Hamilton County Administrator Dave Krings said he is hopeful that the county's share will be larger. He said Hamilton County usually receives about 10 percent of statewide allocations.

        Mr. Krings took the news with mixed feelings.

        “It's money we haven't received before,” Mr. Krings said. “On the other hand, the need is great. We could put many multiples of that to good use.”

        Mr. Maccarone's presentation about homeland security to the county's top officials came after Ron Carlee, administrator for Arlington County, Va., gave them a powerful presentation on how his county responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The Pentagon is in Arlington County.

        Mr. Carlee said the county's fire departments make an average of 250 runs to the Pentagon every year, and that knowledge paid off when they had to search for bodies amid smoke, darkness and rubble in the demolished section.

        Mr. Carlee said one of the most important decisions made that day came within hours of the airplane slamming into the symbol of the nation's military.

        “It was most important for us to present a unified front. Whatever we did, we did in unanimity,” Mr. Carlee said. “One of those decisions was that no governments would be closed on Sept. 12.

        “The libraries were open, the trash was collected, parking tickets were issued. That demonstrated as clearly as anything we could have done that terrorist efforts in Washington were futile.”

        Battling the fire on the Pentagon's roof was one of the most dangerous times for rescuers, Mr. Carlee said. The roof is poured concrete, covered with tar. Atop the tar are wooden supports, stuffed with horsehair for insulation, and topped with roofing tiles.

        Mr. Carlee said the fire ran under the tiles and threatened national defense communications.

        Help was found in some unlikely places.

        When the state prison system offered to provide security fencing within 24 hours, the county's park system was able to have the fencing on site in an hour. Police officers were in charge of securing the checkpoints around the Pentagon.

        “Local governments have a lot of resources we can bring to a situation much more nimbly than other levels of government,” Mr. Carlee said. “The first line of defense for the military headquarters of the only superpower in the world was our local police force. Local government has to be prepared.”


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