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Many Jurisdictions, Many Challenges, Many Solutions

March 1, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

The National Capital Region, comprising Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, is one of the busiest, most powerful and hence most complicated areas in the United States when it comes to security. Two of the key people in charge of ensuring smooth running no matter the circumstances took time out of their busy schedules to update participants at the AFCEA International Homeland Security Conference. Cathy Lanier, chief of police, Washington, D.C., and James F. Schwartz, chief, Arlington County Fire Department, Virginia, emphasized that cooperation and coordination are essential no matter the size of the municipality or the threats it faces. In addition to the expected emergency situations all localities may face, the National Capital Region (NCR) must provide security and respond to incidents during special events and visits from world dignitaries while accepting that the area is a primary target for terrorists. But the leaders of emergency response in the NCR have found specific crucial methods to ensure quick response no matter the situation. Lanier shared that it is important to have a region's primary decision makers "on speed dial," so they can be contacted as soon as a potentially difficult situation is identified. She also emphasized the importance of knowing who will be in charge when responding to specific incidents, which ensures quick decision making and information sharing. The overarching lesson learned after dealing with everything from an inauguration to city-stopping snowstorms is that preplanning and training are critical, Lanier stated. "You need to coordinate ahead of time," she added. Schwartz faces similar challenges of multijurisdictional coordination. Virginia counties in the region are so closely integrated that three different fire departments could potentially respond to a single cul-de-sac in an emergency depending solely on the physical location of a single house. He pointed out that the homeowners don't care which department responds when they call 9-1-1. So through cooperation and collaboration, the jurisdictions in the area decided it best to drop the idea of man-made dividing lines and have the department with the most appropriate resources in the area respond to the emergency. Coordination of resources is not new to the area. In 1996, the first nonmilitary team comprising representatives from law enforcement, medical, HAZMAT and first responders, among others, was created to respond to multidimensional emergencies. This team concept has since been copied in 124 cities across the country, Schwartz related. In addition to sharing tasks and talents across the governmental space, Lanier said information sharing also is needed among law enforcement, emergency response organizations and industry.

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