The middle of December 2010 saw a new event come to Denver, the Denver UASI Shared Strategies for Homeland Security Conference. UASI is the Urban Area Security Initiative program, a post-9/11 homeland security initiative that helps major metropolitan areas develop regional collaboration, communications and support programs for prevention, protection, response and recovery in the event of an incident. An “incident”, by UASI terms, would generally be an act of terrorism, but the scope of the planning could easily be expanded to cover any type of a man-made or natural disaster.
The conference had multiple tracks, including Medical and Health, First Response, Business and Critical Infrastructure and Community Resilience. The planning for this conference began two years ago and O.M.E.G.A. was involved for a phase of the project a year before the event, after being invited to help develop concepts for the Community Resilience track.
Several of our members attended the event, which occupied the entire Concourse level conference center of the Denver Downtown Sheraton Hotel. Titled “Shared Strategies for Homeland Security”, the four day conference focused on infrastructure disrupting events and brought in security and emergency management experts from across the United States, as well as from Israel.
Israel is an interesting case study in terrorism and emergency response. Surrounded by hostile countries and constantly struggling against Palestinian residents over the same piece of land, Israel is constantly exposed to an array of dangers. Acts of terrorism on Israeli soil are very frequent. They currently see an average of more than a half dozen acts of terrorism per day, well over two thousand incidents per year. The majority of these are “simple” events, but they also see about two dozen suicide bombers over the course of an average year. About one hundred people per year die from suicide bombers, which also translates to half of all terrorism related fatalities. This is a huge number. Israel has a population of 7.5 million people. Converted into American scales, this would be the equivalent of almost one thousand annual suicide bombers killing four thousand people every year.
People living in this environment have little option but to accept terrorism as a regular occurrence and work on a daily basis towards minimizing their personal risk without giving up their ability to live. Constant vigilance and a strong emergency response system is the norm in Israel. Statistics over the last decade show that medical help arrives on the scene in 72 seconds. An ambulance will be on the scene in about 4 minutes. The critically injured will start being evacuated from the scene within ten minutes and the scene is normally cleared of all victims in under an hour. One night during the conference I was a witness to a rear-end collision. Even though a 911 call went out immediately, an ambulance took almost ten minutes to arrive and a half hour later they were still working with a single patient. The Israelis have response to mass casualty incidents down to an art.
Triage was really one of the striking differences. First responders in the United States will triage a scene based on severity of the injury. Patients are broken into four categories – critical, delayed, walking wounded and dead. This is the order in which the victims are removed from the scene. We teach that triage takes thirty seconds per patient. A full minute if the injury needs to be managed (such as severe bleeding or an obstructed airway). This is considered lightning fast. In Israel, medical teams triage based on a single criteria. Will this patient die if they are not taken to a trauma center right now?
What’s most amazing is that all of this is done with minimal resources. The Israeli EMS system only has two thousand employees for the entire country. But to supplement the paid responders, there are twelve thousand EMS volunteers who always have their kits with them and can respond within seconds. This would be the equivalent of the United States having a half million volunteer EMTs and paramedics, who are always ready, always on call.
The presentation that was most emotionally draining was Tactics of Scene Response where the presenter went over how the Israeli EMS respond to and process a mass casualty terrorism scene. The presentation was filled with image after image of actual incidents, strewn with bodies and debris. It’s hard to imagine anyone actively working in such an environment on a day to day basis.
The presentation that I enjoyed the most was on the Israeli search and rescue teams. They provide the same services that are performed by search and rescue in the United States, although they are structured differently politically, reporting up to the nationalized police force. The presentation was very simple and very direct, but it stood out for the anecdotal stories of the rescue missions their teams undertake. Anyone who has ever worked search and rescue can appreciate the type of insane situations that people get themselves into and what search and rescue has to do to get them out.
Other sessions in the conference focused on the psychology of a disaster, communications needs, business continuity, resilient communities and ready responders. In all there were nearly a hundred sessions and talks, presented by emergency response specialists from all walks of life and from across the United States and Israel.
There were also over fifty vendors, representing entities that provide services and equipment used by emergency management. A number of them carried state of the art equipment that represents tomorrow’s standards in emergency response. There were entities that can provide training or staff or a back office function, as well as those who offer logistical or planning support for any type of a need.
A first time event in Denver, the UASI Shared Strategies for Homeland Security conference was masterfully planned and executed and brought together hundreds of emergency response professionals from across the United States to share ideas and discover new best practices. It is my sincere hope that this will not be a one time event.