Chief’s Association, first responders learned much from 9/11

Published 3:50 pm Saturday, September 10, 2016

Much has been learned in the 15 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the nation.

The acts of terrorism, which killed 2,996 people, took the nation by surprise and spurred changes in law enforcement and other first responders. They learned better ways to protect citizens and critical infrastructure against future threats.

A regional group, Sabine-Neches Chiefs Association that was established in 1949 and consists of members of police, fire, industry and medical representatives, plays a large part in the regions safety.

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“Since the 9/11 terrorists attacks we became more vigilant. We realized that we were dealing with things outside the norm. Basically we felt like we were at war and people were coming in at war on our turf,” SNCA President and Groves Fire Chief Dale Jackson said. “People were talking about biological and nuclear terrorism, things that could happen, and by doing so our organization grew to include folks in the medical field. We extended our group to include individuals to teach us about things we were hearing that we may have to deal with.”

The Sabine-Neches area has one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical and refining facilities in the U.S. and is home to some of the nation’s busiest ports and loading docks making the area possible targets for terrorist attacks.

“There was a lot of planning to find what are risks are and our capabilities to respond top any incident that may occur,” he said.

In doing so the SNCA has a pool of equipment and personnel to pick from should an event happen and in turn not leave one city without protection.

The equipment and personnel are maintained in a database handled through Beaumont Police Department.

SNCA is a cog of the region covering Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties. When necessary, the group can go outside the area to assist other agencies.

“We have an agreement with the State of Texas and the State of Louisiana,” Jackson said. “There is a mutual aid group in Louisiana and we can pull from there if needed.”

Another issue that changed in response to 9/11 is redundancy in the radio system. The area acquired equipment that was tailored to the type of response they may need during a terrorist incident.

“We you see with terrorists they are there to disrupt our way of life, trying to kill people, obviously and harm people that live in the U.S. and they want to harm our trade and economy so you have to look outside the box on how they would do that,” he said. “We’ve done that. We’ve had training with our industry partners and ourselves to try and make sure we are up on what risk may be there and what we may need to respond to.”

Brandon Hebert, director of operations in Southeast Texas for Acadian Ambulance, said one of the biggest changes was in the way they respond to large-scale disasters. Interoperability in the U.S. goes to a National Incident Management System, which is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

“It’s al about us working with other organizations. Interorganizational, interoperability, fire is able to talk to police and police are able to talk to EMS,” Hebert said. “Up until that time we were using 10-codes. A lot of of 10-4 or 10-9 jargon and signals of that nature. We implemented plain speak; basically talk on the radio so if there is a large scale event and two departments are talking to each other they’re not using these codes so all can understand. It was a paradigm shift.”

Hebert said this change was a turning point and when the pool of first responders really began talking to each other. Today they go over significant events, see how they could have better responded and make changes is necessary.

“The Sabine-Neches Chiefs Association is a prime example of this,” he said. “They are the poster child local mutual aid organizations should be.”

Port Arthur Police Maj. John Owens, an emergency management official with the city, knows that communication between first responders is vital.

Local first responders have been building relationships since 9/11 not only on the local level but the county, state and federal level as well.

“The key is the ability to protect our homeland as well as our local areas that we serve,” Owens said.

He believes the open communication lines and interoperability are what keeps the area safe and on the same page.

Mary Meaux: 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews