Emergency agencies prepare to handle Mid-Valley disasters
Five years after the terror attacks that shook the nation and spawned military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, life in the Mid-Valley is much the same. Lacking the high-profile targets of major cities like New York or San Francisco, it seems almost unthinkable that terror would strike our community.
But it's time to think again - and again. That's what federal, state and local authorities have done for the past five years, supported with millions of dollars in federal funding for Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties.
“Just because a terrorist has not succeeded in attacking a piece of infrastructure here or in other parts of the world does not mean we should not be working to prevent it,” said Chris Bertelli, deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security. Prior to 9/11, he said, “We hadn't seen people flying planes into buildings before, either.”
One of the harshest lessons learned from 9/11 was poor communications between police and fire personnel at the World Trade Center. Today, “interoperability” is a top priority both locally and nationwide. Here's a quick rundown on Mid-Valley anti-terror and disaster planning efforts:
Another big change is in training, said police Chief Richard J. Doscher. “The types of things you sit down and plan for are nothing like we used to do five years ago,” he said. “We do a lot more ‘What if' planning now.”
Sheriff Virginia Black welcomed the new tools but said local residents also face threats from gang members and other homegrown “terrorists.” She noted the recent wave of drive-by shootings, including one that killed a 14-year-old Linda boy in August.
“I would just urge people not to depend solely on law enforcement for their safety,” she said. “People need to practice good safety habits in their homes and in their neighborhoods.”
Sheriff Jim Denney said a better communications system was needed well before 9/11, but funding wasn't available. When the 1997 flood forced mass evacuations, including the jail and dispatch center, it took hours to set up a command post in Sutter. “That left our dispatchers sitting here in harm's way until we could move the communications services out there,” Denney said.
The sheriff's department also has new GPS and thermal imaging units and biohazard suits, and it conducts regular disaster planning with sister agencies. Denney said that puts Sutter County in a better position to handle incidents - even a terrorist attack.
“Prior to 9/11, anything of that magnitude, local public safety (agencies) would have had to do the best they can and hope for an immediate response by federal authorities,” he said. “Now, we have the ability to respond to that situation.”