Penn. officials to card emergency personnel
By Tom Mitchell and Mike Mallory
Copyright 2007 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
PITTSBURGH — A statewide initiative for photo IDs for all emergency personnel is taking shape across Western Pennsylvania. The goal locally is to provide standardization among IDs for all responders in 13 counties around Pittsburgh.
Armstrong County Emergency Management Coordinator Randall J. Brozenick said his office is ready for a flood of applications for cards for police, fire, emergency responders and local amateur radio operators. More than 1,000 identified through the system in Armstrong County will have access to respond to emergencies, Brozenick said.
The ID cards are slated to be issued in compliance with a rule of the Department of Homeland Security's Counter Terrorism Task Force, he said. Brozenick also said the cards issued in the county will be valid anywhere in what is known as Southwestern Pennsylvania Region 13, a 13-county region that includes Pittsburgh.
He said that while the focus of Region 13 is terrorism awareness, responders can be called on in any type of emergency such as flooding, extensive high-wind damage, blizzards or river ice jams, which could cause flooding. He also said that responders will continue to receive advanced training in handling situations ranging from weather-related emergencies, hazardous materials events or various types of terrorist attacks.
"We have to be ready for any type of civil emergency," Brozenick said.
Westmoreland County Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Matason said the identification system will aid in accountability and identification.
"These cards will be really, really helpful," Matason said. "This is more of a universal approach."
The IDs are labeled "Smart Cards" because they are bar-coded and verified through computer databases, Brozenick said.
"They'll be used to properly identify people authorized to respond to virtually any type of emergency," he said. "We've been working on something like this for about two years."
A color-coded bar will designate what agency the bearer represents, Brozenick said. Firefighters will have an orange bar; law enforcement will have a blue bar; hazardous materials specialists, purple; EMS or medical people will be tan; and emergency management officials will have a green bar. Brozenick said amateur radio operators will fall under the emergency management designation and have a green bar on their cards.
Brozenick said that his office is in the process of compiling information for the county's database. During the next few months, Armstrong County will arrange for authorized people from various agencies and groups to report for photographs and to be issued their cards. Brozenick sent letters and forms to all 31 fire departments in the county as well as all law enforcement agencies, emergency medical response teams and others.
Matason said that in Westmoreland County, the system is being coordinated for emergency personnel and will soon move to fire and police departments. Once put into place, Matason said the new system will be a catalyst for the rest of the country to follow.
"It's a really effective way, plus a time-saving way as well," Matason said.
Knox Walk, Allegheny County's emergency medical services manager, said Allegheny County is identifying specialty teams and personnel as the first phase of the project, mainly because of the size of the county. The system is a solid step for the state, but he cautioned that the process isn't complete.
"Are we done? No, I don't think we will ever be done, but it's a constantly changing process," Walk said.