While the bombings at the Boston Marathon reminded responders and emergency managers about the importance to continue to train and plan for natural and man-made disasters, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, had already been planning a full-scale exercise with the city’s Major League Baseball team. Approached by representatives from the Cleveland Indians about testing their ability to respond to a terrorist attack during a major game at Progressive Field, such as a playoff game, the city reached out to Cuyahoga County to help develop the full-scale exercise.
"The Department of Homeland Security recommends preparation as the No. 1 priority in dealing with emergency situations,” said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president of public affairs, in a statement. “While our safety and security policies and procedures always have maintained the highest standards, we know it is very important to be well prepared in the event of any major emergency situation."
Planning began last October for the exercise that took place on April 23, a date determined by the Cleveland Indians because the players were out of town.
“This was a good opportunity for us, and so we took advantage of it and built the exercise as big as we could support it,” said Walter Topp, administrator of the Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management.
In addition to the county and city emergency management offices, about 13 agencies participated in the full-scale exercise, including Cleveland’s police and fire departments, the FBI, National Guard, American Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center and Region 2 Urban Search and Rescue. Topp said the county works with the agencies that participated on a routine basis and that his office’s role is to assist the local communities. “We don’t have any first responder responsibility ourselves because all of Cuyahoga County is incorporated, so in every square foot of it there’s a police chief and a fire chief and they’re responsible for the initial response in their community,” he said.
“Our function is to assist all the local agencies and to really be the gateway to significant assistance either at the state or federal level,” Topp added.
During the exercise, the county’s objectives included testing immediate notification; fire and hazardous materials operations; the ability to establish an incident command system and transition to a unified command system; communications; activating and operating the EOC; and assessing the ability to conduct emergency public information activities. In addition, Topp said the Medical Examiner’s Office participated with the objective of assessing its ability to do fatality management when there are mass causalities.
Tara Vargovich, exercise planner with the Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management, stressed that the exercise was a coordinated effort between the county and Cleveland, and said the city took a lead role with the public information aspect. From the county’s perspective, Vargovich said there were three major takeaways, with the first being the need to focus on a second operational period. A majority of exercises focus on the initial notification and response, but she said discussions need to be expanded to include insight into how long it takes an urban search and rescue team to come in and search an area for people, or how long a medical examiner’s office will be on scene. Vargovich suggested that this could be done by having a time jump or time lapse in the exercise “where incident command is established already, our special teams are coming in to do their role and really provide them additional training and exercising from that standpoint.”
A future exercise with the Medical Examiner’s Office will start at the point where police officers have already set up a perimeter, any fires have been put out, and special teams can move in and start their investigations. “They’re going to be able to go through what it would take to identify articles of clothing and link those articles of clothing to bodies,” Vargovich said. “They haven’t really gotten to do that because they are truncated at the end.”
The second takeaway is to conduct additional specialty training to address the personnel turnover. Vargovich said training is always needed, but additional training will help get new employees and employees who are in new roles up to speed. “The building-block approach to exercises has really been beneficial,” she said. “If we do smaller drills where we identify one item and then building that up into a bigger exercise is really beneficial.”
The final takeaway is assigning people to be scribes and take notes about what is happening. Vargovich said the offices do a good job of documenting information using incident management software, but that it would also be beneficial to have scribes at the scene documenting the response.
Cuyahoga County works with its partner agencies to conduct training constantly throughout the year, participating in one full-scale exercise annually and dozens of smaller exercises with different communities, Topp said.
“Every one of these exercises is extremely valuable to us,” Topp said.