Friday, March 02, 2007

Incident Response in St. Louis: Better Communications Needed

In August 2006, first responders in St. Louis ran a drill which tested the response to a major chemical incident at Busch Stadium. In the scenario, a terrorist group blew up a chlorine truck on Interstate 64, which passes just a few feet from the new stadium - as you can see in this photo.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that communications were sometimes poor during the exercise. The Fire Department was especially disorganized, according to a confidential report:

The document saves its strongest criticisms for the Fire Department, whose reluctance to cooperate with the numerous other agencies involved would have, according to the report, led to a higher death toll.

Specifically, the Fire Department was cited for refusal to participate in a "unified command" — disaster lingo for sharing control with other agencies.

The Fire Department was so isolated, according to the report, that a runner had to relay messages between the department and other agencies.

Fire Chief Sherman George blamed the delay in part on the organizers of the test. He said they forced fire officials to take part in a predrill briefing at Soldiers Memorial, not giving them time to set up.

George says now that during the incident, there was never any clear indication that unified command was necessary.
On the one hand, drills are designed to expose flaws in the response, so that when a real incident happens the response is better organized. But it's still disappointing that there wasn't more coordination and better information sharing between the agencies.

Sports arenas are obviously attractive targets to terrorists, although they are also vulnerable to many types of hazards. For example, in the one year of its existence, the new Busch Stadium has already seen a major storm that rolled through just before a game, injuring dozens of fans - a few of them seriously. Also, before a game of the 2006 National League Championship Series, a biohazard detector found tularemia in the air near Busch Stadium before a postseason game, although nothing came of it.

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