There is little good that came from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Thousands of people lost loved ones, and it changed the way the nation viewed its vulnerability. As horrific as the events were that day, during the investigation afterward, it was discovered new security measures and emergency response plans needed to be implemented.
As a result of the government's commitment to upgrade the emergency response system nationwide, officials said Northeast Michigan has been a beneficiary and is more prepared to react to most any catastrophe that may present itself.
Alpena County 911/Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Szor said the federal government didn't waste time in making funds available for states, counties and cities to help them better their response capabilities. Szor said it was discovered after 9/11 that one of the most glaring needs was to upgrade the way rescuers share vital information.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Alpena County Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Szor shows one of many 800 Mhz radios that have been paid for with homeland security funds. Other upgrades made possible from grant money include the new warning siren system and the development of a hazardous materials team.
"There was a very big push to the local level to bolster emergency response, and the biggest push was geared toward communication," Szor said. "At the towers and during other big events the same thing always surfaced. There was a lack of ability to talk to one another. With some of the homeland security money, we were able to purchase new, 800 Mhz radios for all agencies, which allow us to communicate and coordinate more efficiently."
Szor said there have also been other upgrades made that allow the authorities to relay information or warnings with the public. He said emergency power is now available to the emergency broadcast stations in the area, and new warning sirens have been installed to alert the public of possible threats. Szor said money also was used to create a hazardous material team and helped with the ongoing consolidation of 911 and computer-aided dispatch. In terms of educating the local firefighters and police officers, Szor said more training is available as well.
"The ability to do more training has been a big one," Szor said. "The (Combat Readiness Training Center) plays a big role in helping in training. It allows us to have training exercises right here in Alpena. We have police and firemen training there, as well as hazmat. The base is nothing but a plus for us and a huge ally to have."
Perhaps the most scrutinized in terms of security and procedure was the airline industry. After having three passenger jets hijacked, red flags were raised and tough guidelines put in place. Alpena County Regional Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said there were a lot of changes mandated, but the biggest was probably having federal employees at the airport.
"The most obvious change is the presence of the Transportation Security Administration, who are the federal screeners," McRoberts said. "We also have a much more strict security plan that has to abide by the TSA guidelines. Things are sealed up pretty tight. If someone leaves an access point gate or door open, there is an investigation opened immediately, and if the person is found who left it open or unattended, there are penalties. It really is almost impossible to get near an airplane unless you're authorized."
Szor said great strides have been made, but everyone must remain vigilant and to continue to improve readiness.
"We cannot stop thinking about the unthinkable," Szor said. "We must continue to prepare for natural and unnatural disasters, and the emergency responders must have the training and resources available to mitigate emergencies. We have made strides, but there is still work to do."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689.