Emergency management director discusses state’s preparedness
Frank Siracusa, Nevada’s director of emergency management, talks about the state’s level of preparedness.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, what has been done to improve the security of Nevadans?
We have done a tremendous amount of first-responder training. We’ve purchased needed first-responder equipment and we’ve put tremendous emphasis on prevention and detection. The key is getting them properly trained and properly equipped.
And we’ve done several major exercises with first responders and public officials. Those exercises have improved our planning and our ability to perform. They show us where the holes are in our planning. Since 1999, we’ve received a total of $92 million. Under their rules, 80 percent of that has gone to local governments.
There has been a lot of criticism in some states that too much money went to toys and pork projects. How about Nevada?
Everybody says emergency managers are buying toys, but we’ve purchased protective equipment for first responders, mobile command vehicles, bio-hazard suits and paid for training to use all of them.
By and large, our money has all gone to its intended purposes. In comparison to some other areas nationwide, we’re on top of this curve.
What are the most critical issues still out there?
One of the biggest issues is communications. The different agencies are all on so many different frequencies and operating systems. That issue is a nationwide problem. We’ve made recommendations to fix some of the problems. One of the things to come out of the communications study is not so much one radio system for the state but allowing the various existing radio systems to talk to each other.
And training is an ongoing issue. We’ve trained several thousand first responders across the state, but we’ll have to continue to use funds to train people.
You talk about planning for different disasters. Are we talking about terrorism?
Obviously terrorism is a major area we plan for, but we plan for all hazards. Whether it’s a building that blew up because a gas main ruptured or a terrorist drove into it, we’re going to recover the same way so our planning takes an all-hazards approach.
We have to plan for major flooding, for major wildland fires. Since 1997 we’ve had six presidential declarations for disasters in Nevada including for flooding, fires and severe storms. And Nevada is No. 3 in the nation for earthquakes.
Whatever the cause, a lot of the planning is the same.
What kind of planning are we talking about and how do you test those plans?
We’re developing a multi-year exercise program focusing on what we’d call catastrophic events. We’ll conduct big exercises that involve all those who would respond, including public officials. We’ve already done several. You have to talk about how to mobilize resources, evacuation plans – that’s probably come up because of Hurricane Katrina. We need to improve those evacuation plans.
On terrorism, one of the major focuses is on prevention and detection. If we can get good intelligence, maybe we can prevent a terrorist attack from occurring.
Natural disasters are different. We can’t prevent some of them.
So the plans focus on handling the disaster. What about after the disaster?
Once the response is over, the big job starts – the recovery, and recovery could take years. It’s getting people’s lives and jobs back to normal, rebuild public infrastructure, private homes, private businesses. We start by analyzing all the damage, determining if we have state funds and seeing what federal programs are eligible to help if any.
We’re doing that right now. The governor declared five counties a state of emergency because of (New Year’s) flooding and we have damage assessment teams canvassing Northern Nevada, determining whether the damage would make us eligible for another presidential declaration.