Pa. county adopts NIMS to bolster emergency response
By P.J. Reilly
Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
Copyright 2007 Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.
LANCASTER, Pa. — A criticism leveled by the 9/11 Commission concerning the emergency management response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City was that there were two command headquarters — one for police and another for fire and ambulance teams.
And those commanding the two headquarters did not always coordinate activities with one another, which only added to the chaos that already existed at ground zero.
When Congress approved the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, one of its objectives was to develop and administer a national incident management system, or NIMS.
The goal is to provide a uniform, nationwide approach to emergency situations, so that all responders are "working on the same page" when they arrive at a house fire, school shooting, hurricane or other crisis, Randy Gockley, Lancaster County's emergency management coordinator, said.
"NIMS was developed so responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines can work together better to respond to natural disasters and emergencies, including acts of terrorism," according to www.fema.gov, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site.
On Wednesday, the Lancaster County commissioners unanimously voted to adopt NIMS for all county agencies.
Ultimately, Gockley said, every municipal, county and state government in the country will have to do likewise, or risk losing federal funding for emergency management training and for disaster relief.
"Any person who might be involved in an emergency response will have to go through some level of NIMS training," Gockley said.
That includes all 2,800 firefighters, 800 police officers and 450 paramedics and emergency medical technicians in Lancaster County.
It also includes countless other municipal and county employees and elected officials.
According to Gockley, NIMS would allow firefighters, police officers and ambulance crews to work together on one incident, and each would have a basic understanding of what the other responders are responsible for.
Those responders generally work well together now in Lancaster County, Gockley said.
"But we can always get better," he said.
NIMS also would allow a paramedic from Lancaster County to go to a disaster in some other part of the country and know how to assist the local emergency response teams there.
As the county's NIMS coordinator, Gockley said each municipality in Lancaster will be asked to designate its own NIMS coordinator, who then will be responsible for contacting all the local emergency response units in its municipality to inventory their equipment and find out who has NIMS training and who needs it.
"The state wants us to get a handle on exactly what the capabilities are in each community," Gockley said.
The level of training varies among the different classes of emergency responders, from entry-level firefighters to managers, such as squad leaders, to executives, such as chiefs.
The NIMS training required of a fire chief is more extensive than that required of his or her subordinates.
About 1,700 emergency responders in the county already have received some NIMS training, Gockley said.
That training was paid for by the state Office of Homeland Security. No guarantee has been offered, he said, that the state will continue to provide that funding.
"That's something we're going to have to keep track of," Gockley said.