Saturday, January 11, 2003

Ohio cities sign aid pact for disasters

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AKRON - Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and the mayors of Ohio's other largest cities signed a mutual aid pact Friday, pledging to come to one another's aid in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

If there were an incident in Cincinnati, officials in Dayton, Columbus, Akron, Toledo and Cleveland would send equipment, staff or expertise to help. Cincinnati would do the same for other cities.

"Each one of these emergencies presents its own set of circumstances, and it's impossible to anticipate what form a tragedy will take," Mr. Luken said.

But by working details out ahead of time, the mayors hope to avoid confusion over how safety forces would be paid, where they stay and what they do.

The aid could begin even before any catastrophe occurred.

Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright, for example, said he's taken notice of a Cleveland plan to evacuate downtown and may emulate it in Cincinnati.

Cleveland developed its plan after one of the hijacked planes on Sept. 11 flew over Cleveland airspace.

"What happened on Sept. 11 was that everybody was trying to turn towards home, rather than just getting on the nearest highway and get out of downtown," said Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell. "So what we had was chaos, complete gridlock."

Mutual aid agreements are common among cities and their suburbs, but the mayors said only other big cities have the equipment and specialized training necessary in the event of a large-scale disaster.

The agreement is largely symbolic. Ohio law already requires local governments to develop mutual aid plans, and the details must be worked out by Cincinnati City Manager Valerie Lemmie and safety directors from around the state.

The mayors also used the occasion to renew their frequent complaint that federal homeland security funding isn't reaching front-line responders.

"Fifteen months after Sept. 11, not one dollar has come to us to do any of the things the federal government has told us to do after Sept. 11," said Donald L. Plusquellic, the four-term Akron mayor who has emerged as the informal leader of the mayors' group.

"When there's a major anthrax scare or a bomb scare or an event of any type, they don't call Columbus, or the governor's office or the State Highway Patrol, or even the Army or the Air Force. Homeland security is police and firefighters."

The next mayor's meeting will be in Cincinnati, tentatively scheduled for late March.


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