This post is by someone called H. Grattan. It was originally posted as a comment.
The author makes an important point about the nature of preparedness, especially about developing and sustaining capabilities appropriate to low probability high consequence events. On paper, New York City had the capability — measurable and measured – described in the story below. But as the author suggests, not everything that should be measured about the capability was measured. Would it even have been worth it?
This is an anecdote. Do we need to we move beyond “anecdata” to assess preparedness? Or can we do something creative with anecdotes that gets us to some roughly right indicators of preparedness? I think we can, but that’s a post for a different day.
Preparedness initiatives lend themselves to affirmation: what could be wrong with kaizen efforts to prepare for emergencies. But preparedness is more about tomorrow and for the most part homeland security practitioners are overwhelmed with today and their core functions.
Prior to September 11, 2001, some NYPD officials wanted to prepare for really bad things. In 1998, in preparation for the Goodwill Games, members of the NYPD’s eight patrol task forces were trained as Level-C hazmat response units to supplement the Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit in the event of a large-scale hazmat incident. The initiative was well intentioned but not well supported.
In the wake of 9/11, the initiative was renewed and the Task Forces were identified as the Department’s secondary for hazmat response. A pilot program was developed to qualify 200 task-force members as Level A hazmat techs and was facilitated on an ad hoc basis. Members of the Task Force were sent to the nation’s hazmat training facilities in New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, and Alabama.
The training was extensive and took away from the Task Force’s core function which was to suppress crime in the City’s hot spots.
The Commanders of those units sometimes resisted efforts to multi-task their units because it debilitated unit effectiveness: arrest and summons numbers dropped [HLS-WTF!].
Consequence: the pilot 200 police officer level-A hazmat qualification metric became a reality but a nominal one. While the approximate 200 officers did achieve initial qualification, few were allowed to renew their qualification. But all were required to take an annual OSHA Hazmat Tech medical. I believe, on paper, the 200 or so retained their qualification.
On July 18, 2007 NYC experienced a steam pipe explosion that was initially thought to be a possible terrorist attack. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_New_York_City_steam_explosion.
Someone in NYPD realized that the Department had a secondary hazmat capability and requested their response. The roster of 200 was dutifully pulled from a shelf and approximately 17 members were determined to be on duty and qualified to respond. On scene, 3 of the 17 were determined to be ready, willing, and able to facilitate the operation. The other 14 were not fully prepared. The failed response was the coup de grace for the Task Force initiative.
IMHO, the Task Force HazMat initiative was an affirmative effort to be prepared. I was part of the initiative and have to admit that qualifying as a hazmat tech was a full time effort and retaining it even harder when the unit was expected to maintain its core functionality, i.e., crime suppression.
At one meeting, I was questioned about my unit’s activity [arrests and summons]. I responded by mentioning that counterterrorism initiatives accounted for approximately 25% of the unit’s man-hours. It was suggested that I do more with less, counterterrorism efforts notwithstanding.
So, the urban cowboys went on [and go on ] nominally prepared for the next large-scale hazmat event.
I understand the NYPD’s decision, i.e. prioritization.
PDD-8 should consider “incremental burden;” are we really doing more with less or just saying so.