WASHINGTON, D.C. — The phone rings constantly these days in District of Columbia Fire Chief Dennis Rubin’s office.
There are a multitude of details to tend to before the arrival of millions of visitors from around the world anxious to be part of history next week when the first black president is sworn in.
Planning for the inaugural events started six months ago. John Donnelly and Henry Lyles — both special operations officers — have been at the table representing the fire department’s interest. Federal and city officials also have been crafting a response plan second to none.
“This is an exciting time, but a work-intensive time as well.”
In recent months, more and more people have become involved in planning what many are calling the largest national security event in history.
Rubin agrees with that summation. And, believes this is just the beginning. “With the excitement he (President-elect Obama) is generating, we think we’ll be seeing other events that may attract a million or so.”
At arm’s reach on his desk is a white binder “2009 Presidential Inauguration.”
Every agency has developed its own document according to their specific responsibilities. “One plan overlaps another plan, but they all fit together in a tight way.”
While there have been many briefings to keep the public informed about parking, street closures and security issues, there are a multitude of details that Rubin says have to be kept close to the chest.
While he can’t say how many extra EMS and fire personnel will be in the city that day, Rubin said they’re grateful to have the cooperation of nearby counties, involved with the National Capital and Baltimore area Council of Governments (COG).
The chief said working through COG is the only way to guarantee that the responders are qualified. “We can’t have freelancers. If someone showed up from another state to volunteer, we’d have to say: ‘thanks, but no thanks.” We would have no idea how to determine who they are or if they are really certified.
“There are just too many unknowns to allow that to happen.”
Three ambulance strike teams — personnel with 18 transport units — from across the state will be headed to the Nation’s Capital next week. The effort is being coordinated by Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS).
Jurisdictions sending support in that capacity include Allegany, Baltimore County, Charles, Frederick, Howard, St. Mary’s and Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
“It’s been quite an undertaking,” said Jim Brown, MIEMSS public information officer. “A lot of people have volunteered to participate.”
Personnel who are coming in to lend a hand have undergone certain security clearances. Vehicles also will be cleared.
MIEMSS also will have staff working along side of D.C. fire and EMS officials as well as in the hospital coordination center, Brown said.
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) will open its emergency operations center Jan. 17. There, state officials will be keeping tabs on what’s happening across the state as well as in Washington.
Transportation officials have warned motorists to be ready for extensive delays. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also suggested people not travel on the major highways around the Nation’s Capital next Tuesday unless they absolutely have to.
MIEMSS officials also will be keeping track of bed status at various hospitals throughout the area. That’s done through CHATS (County Hospital Alert Tracking System), Brown explained.
Rubin said hospital officials have been involved in the process, and are gearing up with their own response plans.
“We want to have a 30 minute turnaround time at the hospitals. That’s so we can get the ambulances back out on the streets.
Warming tents and first aid stations will be set up throughout the city. Some buildings also will be open to provide shelter for visitors.
When the ambulance crews arrive for their briefing Tuesday morning, a D.C. firefighter or EMT will be assigned to their unit.
Virginia also is sending crews to assist. Ambulances from as far away as Richmond are headed this way.
Rubin said all stations across the city are being beefed up next week. “We run about 400 to 450 calls a day. We have our citizens to take care of in addition to these visitors…”
He said everyone in the department knows how important it is that things go smoothly, and that they are prepared.
The first big test of the operations will occur Sunday when nearly a million people are expected to turn out for a concert and fireworks on the Mall.
Command staff from other cities will be shadowing local officers next week. Rubin said they are anxious to learn how it’s done.
Because of their close proximity to Washington, personnel from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will be busy come Inauguration day.
“We have been planning for quite a while, getting all of our marching orders from downtown,” Pete Piringer, public information officer for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, said..
Montgomery will be sending specialized personnel and apparatus into the city on the big day.
Piringer said at least three EMS units will be sent to the district. Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team will be put on standby. Personnel from the National Medical Response Team will be stationed in D.C. under the direction of the fire department. County bomb squad personnel will be assisting as well.
Prince George’s County will not be providing any equipment or personnel on Jan. 20, says PIO Mark Brady, but crews there will be busy nonetheless.
Brady said preparation efforts began in November, and have become more intense as Inauguration Day nears.
“It’s really come to a heated pace now. I have attended a minimum of two inauguration meetings or conferences calls every day of this week.”
Brady said his department’s main focus will be transportation issues. Bridges and roadways going into the district from Virginia will be closed, which means lots of traffic will be attempting to come in through Maryland.
“There are several Metro stations that we anticipate will be extremely crowded, long lines of people waiting to go downtown. We expect it to start around 3 a.m.”
He said the county will have an operation center monitoring traffic. And there will be plenty of close-by inaugural activity for responders to stay on top of.
“Balls are going on at FedEx Field, the National Harbor and just about every major hotel in Prince George’s County,” he said.
Although Jan. 20 is a holiday in Montgomery County, fire officials have made sure to provide extra resources that day.
“Because of the current fiscal climate, we have to be prudent about overtime,” Brady said. So, officials are relying heavily on volunteer firefighters and EMTs to provide additional manpower.
Brady said his county’s operations center will be partially activated and essential personnel have been alerted that they should be ready to be called into service at a moment’s notice.
Moving people out of the county and into D.C. is as big a priority for Montgomery County as it is for Prince George’s.
Piringer said that officials there have been coordinating with police and transportation officials to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“Most of our operations will be related to people and traffic,” he said.
He said station up-staffing is planned, and crews that are sent elsewhere will be supplemented with volunteers at various places. Additional staff will also be on hand at the county’s communication center.
Most personnel will be working 24 hour shifts on that day, as usual. Specialty units will be working 12 hour shifts and some people will be prepared to work 72 hours as needed.
“Whatever it takes,” Piringer said. “People are prepared for whatever is necessary.”
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