Date: February 9, 2011
Abstract: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has recently stated that the threat of a terrorist attack against the US is in some aspects "at its most heightened state" since the September 11th attacks.
"The terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly," she told members of Congress on Wednesday.
The threats come from both new and old terrorist groups, some of which operate within the US. The newer groups being heavily influenced by al-Qaeda, she said. Ms. Napolitano warned that attacks could be carried out with little warning.
State and local law enforcement officials are increasingly needed to combat terror and the federal government must focus on supporting their efforts to secure communities, Ms. Napolitano said in testimony to the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.
No one can say for sure which city, if any, could be a target. But, being that Philadelphia is part of the megalopolis that is Boston, New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C., our officials and first responders need to be prepared and actively monitoring the situation. So, what is Philadelphia doing when it comes to preventing terror attacks?
Like many major cities, the Philadelphia Police Department has its own Homeland Security Unit. Created in 2002 in response to the September 11th attacks, the unit was establish to be a proactive response to the elevated terror threat. This unit emphasized the need for first responders to also be first preventers.
There is both a tip phone number (215-685-1170) and website which is actually just the Philadelphia Police website.
The unit is trained to respond to many different terror scenarios, some of which are, biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear and explosives threats. These threats would be dealt with by the Major Incident Response Team. A team made up of 500 volunteer officers and supervisors who all received specialized training however the group is not considered “special”. (As a special forces group would be categorized.)
However, with budget deficits and recent cuts to the police and fire departments, is the unit still as functional as it was when first created? Are sensitive areas, such as the subway, sports arenas, and the PGW Plant still being actively and constantly monitored?
Patrons of SEPTA may from time to time notice transit police and Philadelphia police officers patrolling some of the many subway platforms and subway cars themselves. But with last year’s flash mobs and violent crimes, both on and off SEPTA property, have our first responders become distracted? In the upcoming mayoral election, one can hope this will be a topic of interest. And as for the PGW Plant in Port Richmond, there is a buffer zone to stop people from parking close to the tanks themselves. However, the barricades used are no more than orange safety cones and wooden police detour signs.The greatest weapon against terrorism is you. Yes you, Mr. and Mrs. Philadelphia. It’s a phrase repeated every year by counter-terrorism experts and politicians. As you ride SEPTA to work or school, pay attention to your surroundings. The same when you are at one of the sport’s complexes. This isn’t a sense of paranoia as Philadelphia has had its problems with crime and its citizens know to remain vigilant. Rather, this is a manageable approach to preventing a possibly unmanageable situation (Examiner, 2011).
Pittsburgh Officials Dispute Report On Bio-Terrorist Attack Preparedness
Date: January 1, 2012
Source: Times Online
Abstract: A report in a national publication claimed Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas are unprepared to handle a bioterrorist attack, and state and local officials dispute that conclusion.
In December, a Forbes.com report ranked the Pittsburgh region as one of the country's worst prepared to handle a terrorist attack using biological weapons. The report was based on a rating system put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The ratings go from 0 to 100 and assesses a region's plan for handling a biological attack and the ability to carry out that plan, including a region's ability to receive, distribute and dispense medication, according to the CDC.
Wes Hill couldn't disagree more with the report. Hill, the Beaver County Emergency Services director and the chairman of the Region 13 Counter-Terrorism Task Force, said the report is "very misleading to the public."
The Region 13 Task Force encompasses Pittsburgh and the 13 surrounding counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Hill said the report averaged scores for the region over the past several years, instead of looking at how the numbers have improved from year to year. Also, the report didn't include the most recent figures, for 2010-11.
The report was "not a good way of representing the data or the level of improvement," said Shannon Calluori, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. "Major improvements have been made over the past several years."
For 2007-08, the first year scores were given by the CDC, Beaver County received a rating of 42. By 2009-10, the score was up to 66.
The most recent score for Beaver County -- for 2010-11, which was not included in the average -- was an 81, Calluori said. That number is above what the CDC says is an acceptable preparedness score of at least 79.
Allegheny County's rating also started off at 42 for the first year but was up to a 99 in the most current years, Calluori said.
The scores are partially determined by what has been written down for the CDC as far as details of emergency preparedness plans, and the written reports to the CDC have also improved in terms of detail, she said.
"We are better prepared than we ever were," Hill said. "We'll continue to enhance that capability."
Planning and Practice
Over the past five years, the Region 13 Task Force has put a lot of time and money into creating an operations plan for a biological attack and practicing enacting that plan.
The CDC gave Pennsylvania more than $19 million in 2010 for public health preparedness planning. Some of that money came from the CDC's Cities Readiness Initiative, which focuses on improving preparedness in the country's major metropolitan areas.
Classes approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were made available to all response organizations in the region to train and prepare first responders, Hill said.
In every county in the region, Beaver included, there have been drills to practice the mass distribution of pharmaceuticals, Hill said. He said the goal is to be able to distribute pills or give injections to the general public quickly and efficiently.
Practice exercises have been done with surrounding counties as well, Hill said. One drill was done in Butler with people from multiple counties coming into one distribution area with a drive-through dispensary.
One of the important components for Region 13 is that if one county needs help, it can pull resources from surrounding counties, Hill said. The counties work as a team.
Calluori said the region has proven its capability to dispense medication in a real situation as well. She cited the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic as an example of vaccines being successfully administered to thousands of people."We are prepared to deal with a major public health emergency," Calluori said (Times Online, 2012).