Emergency Response Improvements Recommended

Emergency Response Improvements Recommended After County and municipal officials released the After Action Reports for the Topover 15 Emergency Exercise, they immediately began planning to address recommendations for additional equipment, facilities and procedures that would improve response.

“The Topover 15 Exercise provided us an opportunity to really test our plans and procedures for responding to emergencies, and the evaluation of the exercise indicates that we have done a very good job preparing and improving those plans over the years,’’ County Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Kevin Tuno said.

“This exercise not only tested each agency’s plans, but how those plans interfaced with each other, and at the county, municipal, private and public level,’’ he continued. “Response was well-coordinated and efficient. But I have to say I am not surprised. We have outstanding responders and resources in Burlington County. They are well trained and dedicated to providing public safety.’’

Tuno stated that planning for the exercise began more than two years ago, and while the After Action Reports to evaluate the exercise end the state’s direct involvement, the real purpose of the effort is clear – identify and implement improvements in recommended areas.

“The recommendations are all in areas that are considered the least critical components in our plan,’’ County Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Kevin Tuno said. “The recommendations are mostly enhancements to our operation that would increase efficiency.’’

The multi-level, multi-jurisdictional exercise was held for five hours on September 25th and was designed to test response by first responders to all hazards and all risks. The exercise included a biological event at Lockheed Martin in Mount Laurel (“Mike Lima 36’’), a radiological event at South Jersey Regional Airport in Lumberton (“End Run 13’’) and a terrorism/hostage event at Lenape Regional High School in Medford (“Mike Tango 25’’).

Evaluators were assigned to each event to observe critical components of the response, including communication, implementation of emergency plans, and dissemination of information.

Some areas of the County response where improvements were recommended were: • Having law enforcement (Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s Office) interface better with OEM • Upgraded technology at the OEM Command Center • Exchange of vital information (bed and patient status) between hospitals and OEM • Separate work area in the OEM Command Center for public information representatives

The current OEM Command Center, and the one used for Topover 15, is a temporary facility in Hainesport until the permanent Center opens after January at the renovated Public Safety Center in Westampton.

“When the new Command Center is operational,’’ Tuno said, ‘’it will include many of the technologies that were recommended in the After Action Report.’’

“And we have started planning orientation sessions of the Emergency Operations twice a year, as we used to, once the new center is open,’’ Tuno said. “That will give the representatives of agencies involved an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the function of the Command Center before an emergency. That is something the exercise brought to light.’’

“Also, we learned we need to continue training in the County’s new radio communication system.’’

The Mount Laurel event was important to the exercise because it included Lockheed Martin, one of the county’s largest employers and a national defense contractor.

Most of the recommendations were to improve communication abilities with and within the Mount Laurel OEM Command Center by purchasing equipment that would allow remote video transmissions to the Command Center and purchasing communication equipment for private critical infrastructure facilities that would be compatible to OEM. Training on the staffing and duties in the Command Center was also recommended.

Lumberton’s recommendations also centered on improving technology – visual and auditory – in its Command Center, as well as additional protective equipment for first responders, including police, for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) incidents.

Medford’s recommendations after its event – responding to a hostage situation at a school that also involved a suspected radiological device – centered on its Command Post.

Because of the large number of representatives at the Command Post and due to the nature of the event, the current Command Post was considered too small. Also, it was recommended that OEM purchase a mobile Command Post to locate near the incident, and to provide training for school and business administrators on the basic concepts of Incident Command.

Virtua Health System, Cooper Hospital System and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital System were an integral part of the exercise, not only for incident command and communications, but for its ability to rapidly set up decontamination and triage, as well as being able to accept a large number of contaminated patients while maintaining normal hospital operations.

“I was pleased with how we responded but not satisfied,’’ Freeholder Director James K. Wujcik said after reviewing the exercises on Sept. 25th. “We should never be satisfied with our processes or procedures. We must always be vigilant in terms of looking for improvement.’’

“I think the residents of Burlington County can feel safer today than they did yesterday because of all the hard work these men and women put into training and this exercise,’’ said Freeholder Dawn Marie Addiego.

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Author: Press Release-Burlington County

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