County better prepared for emergency response

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Five years ago – prior to Sept. 11 – Dallas County did not have a viable EMA Center.

The 9-11 communication center is now in a better location and there is better emergency power when the lights go out.

Email newsletter signup

Those are just a few improvements since Sept. 11, 2001, pointed out by Richard Bean, administrative coordinator for the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency.

“We have better cooperation between EMA and the 911 people,” Bean said. The Emergency Operations Center at the Dallas County Courthouse can be used as a backup 911 call center in an emergency.

“Basically, we are in a lot better position,” he said. “We have had more drills for different kinds of disasters. People know what their roles are. We did not have that five years ago.”

Five years ago Monday was the attack on the United States that killed about 2,700 people when terrorists took over four planes and flew them into the World Trade Center twin towers, the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsvlvania.

Since that time, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security has pushed for better communication. The agency has also provided funding in the way of grants to help counties purchase specific pieces of equipment that will improve communication.

“The funding has made a lot of difference,” Bean said. “And that benefits the community.”

The state Department of Homeland Security has secured between $15 million and $20 million to improve interoperable communication between agencies, said Tracey Ayres, public information officer for the department. “We went to counties to find out what they needed” to improve communication, she said.

One device is a bridging system that scrambles frequencies, taking all the different signals and putting them on one frequency.

As with other communities across the country, communication between agencies has been a problem in Dallas County.

“9-11 made people aware that we needed communication between agencies,” Bean said. “The equipment we have now allows agencies with different frequencies to talk to one another.”

Mutual cooperation has been essential. “It’s no longer your turf and my turf. It’s our turf. We’re all in this together,” he said.

The Dallas County EMA serves a population of about 44,000 people. That may seem small in comparison with a place like New York City, but, according to Bean, our area can have a disaster on the same proportion as Sept. 11 with a tornado or a hurricane. Hurricane Katrina showed that nature is as capable as terrorists in destroying a city.

“If we had not been prepared, we couldn’t have helped them,” Bean said of this area’s response to Katrina.

In the same way that Sept. 11 helped show the need to improve emergency management operations, hurricanes have also helped with improvements.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Bean heard about the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center and Pentagon on the radio while traveling the state as executive director for a 13-county

regional planning commission.

Bean said he believes we are more prepared now for any type of disaster we might face.

“We’re ready for things that we can foresee,” he said. “We’re ready for weather disasters. We’ve proven that we can take care of derailings and can respond with HazMat.”

But, in the emergency readiness department, there can always be the unexpected, he said.

“You can always have something you’ve never had before,” he said.

Bean said it is essential to have cooperation in order to be prepared.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Bean said. “We have good cooperation. We have excellent support from our community.”

Bean said volunteers help with staffing when needed. “Our people cooperate,” he said. “I think that’s a key element. I think they have trust in what we’re trying to do.”