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Emotional Keynote on Las Vegas Shooting a Highlight at IAEM Conference

How planning and collaboration between various agencies and jurisdictions produced 'muscle memory.'

In an emotional keynote presentation, Ron Turner, division chief of emergency management and safety with the Henderson, Nev., Fire Department, took a captive audience at the 65th International Association of Emergency Managers conference in Long Beach, Calif., through the shooting that killed at least 58 and wounded more than 500.

Turner showed a graphic video and audio of the scene. As shots rang out and spectators tried to save the lives of critically wounded concert-goers, the police radio tracked law enforcement's efforts as a team made its way to room 32 at Mandalay Bay hotel where the gunman sprayed bullets upon the people below.

It took just 12 minutes for police to breach Room 32 and find the shooter dead, but the incredible damage had been done and Turner laid out the next 12 or so hours.

The shooting happened in Clark County, which had partnered with local counties and cities to develop plans to mitigate something like what happened on this night. For one, they had standardized the EOCs so that each would have the same protocols. They had studied the Mumbai attacks where 164 people were killed in the shootings and bombings and decided that should something similar occur they would move to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible.

They trained a rescue task force, composed of police and fire that, instead of staging and waiting, would move into an area to care for wounded as soon as police had cleared that area. "We would go into that hot zone right away instead of waiting and staging," Turner said. "That would have taken hours and more lives would have been lost.

Also, they worked with hospitals and public health to develop a plan for a surge of patients. It worked as hospitals collaborated to transport shooting victims to each other during the event. The coroner spearheaded a mass fatality initiative statewide, and emergency management was heavily involved with the delivery of death notifications during the first two days after the shooting, Turner said.

The planning, Turner said allowed emergency managers, fire, police and health-care workers to operate off of "muscle memory." After 12 hours in the EOC, Turner visited the hospitals. "It's a sight you don't ever want to see," he said. He revealed at the end of the presentation that his mother had attended the concert and he wouldn't be able to locate her for 12 hours after the shooting stopped. "I needed that muscle memory," he said.

Cascading Events and Unintended Consequences

In a breakout session, Larimer County, Colo., Director of Emergency Management Lori Hodges presented on cascading events and unintended consequences. She said the future of the field will require us to develop plans that consider more than just an event: the multitude of effects that event has on a many people and entities.

An example of the cascading effects of disasters is the displacement of Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico and their relocating in Florida. This has a cascading effect on Florida. The cascading effect of a forest fire might mean a prison has to be evacuated because of the smoke. These effects must be considered during the planning stage and included in mitigation efforts.

Hodges mentioned the several Colorado fires in 2012 during a drought and then the rain. A cascading effect of the forest fires and the rain was mudslides and floods.

She said the beginning of these cascading events often come way before the events. With the forest fires, that stage was set with the overgrown forest and the decisions to allow that growth, which allowed beetles to kill trees and turn them into fuel. She said emergency managers and planners should ask, "What cascades could occur and how could they end."
Some strategies and things to plan for:

  • Mitigate. How could you stop the cascade?
  • How will it affect infrastructure, both social and built infrastructure?
  • Plan for the unknown. Don't say it's never going to happen here
  • Get partners in a room and discuss the different scenarios
  • Plan for all hazards
Bottom line, it's not the event, but would could happen along with it.

In another session, a panel discussed technology solutions for emergency responders and emergency managers, some available now some perhaps in the future.

Discussed was artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality and collaborative tools.

Artificial intelligence includes predictive analysis and enables decision-making based on data. Augmented reality is like the first-down line on the television during a football game. It's only there on the television. It could be used to show the dangers of a forest fire up close where nobody really sees one, and if they do it's too late.

In another keynote, Lori Peek, professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center in Boulder, Colo., talked about her years of research on some of the most vulnerable citizens during and after a disaster — children.

She studied the children of Katrina — some 5,000 were displaced after the event — and where they wound up and how they fared. She divided it up into three categories: those who found a state of equilibrium or stability; those who declined and kept declining and those who fluctuated between the two.

The results depended both on their status before the disaster and what happened to them during the disaster. Peek said children need to be more involved in the planning before disaster to help them feel less vulnerable. She said disasters don't start and end when the storm starts and ends. For children, they perpetuate disruption, and she said for some, Katrina is ongoing. 

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