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Safety workers compare notes on equipment

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Jack Butler, Fulton County Deputy Fire Chief, speaks on Wednesday afternoon as fire and police agencies from six metro counties got together on Wednesday to demonstrate their response teams and equipment related to hazardous materials and explosives incidents. The jurisdictions, including City of Atlanta, Gwinnett County, Clayton County, Cobb County, Fulton County and DeKalb County are all part of the Urban Area Security Initiative program funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Jack Butler, Fulton County Deputy Fire Chief, speaks on Wednesday afternoon as fire and police agencies from six metro counties got together on Wednesday to demonstrate their response teams and equipment related to hazardous materials and explosives incidents. The jurisdictions, including City of Atlanta, Gwinnett County, Clayton County, Cobb County, Fulton County and DeKalb County are all part of the Urban Area Security Initiative program funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Fire and police agencies from five counties and Atlanta came together Wednesday at Coolray Field to compare their equipment and ability to respond to terrorist attacks.

The jurisdictions, including Atlanta, Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, are part of the Metro Atlanta Urban Area Security Initiative, a program funded by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the entire metropolitan area can respond to large disasters and emergencies.

"This is a great opportunity for more sharing, the best practices and education as we plan for the risks of terrorism," said Julia Janka, the program director of the initiative.

The program receives $10 million to $13 million every year. It is led by the mayor of Atlanta and county commissioners, including Charles Bannister.

"We brought out everybody to take a look at what we have in the region, to try and find the gaps and what is missing and to look at our best practices," said Jack Butler Jr., deputy chief of the Fulton County Fire Department, who led the event.

The focus on Wednesday was responding to biological or chemical attacks, especially decontaminating victims. More than a dozen emergency vehicles were lined up in the parking lot of Coolray Field as different Hazmat teams and bomb squads compared vehicles and equipment.

"It helps to come here and see what kind of toys they got and show what kind of toys we got, and that way everybody can come to the ball game prepared," said Lt. Rodney Hakeem of Clayton County's Hazmat.

Although much of the equipment was made by the same manufacturer, the goal was to ensure officers from different jurisdictions could work together, said several officials.

"If a city of Atlanta bomb squad and Gwinnett County bomb squad were to show up at the same house, we need to inter-operate," said Lt. Bill Walsh, Gwinnett County's bomb squad commander. "(Another officer's) badge might read the city of Atlanta, but if I needed him to operate a robot, he could."

Comparing resources and capabilities will help the different agencies plan on how to buy equipment in the interest of the entire metropolitan region.

"No one jurisdiction has enough tax dollars to buy everything we need to deal with a large scale incident," Butler said.

Gwinnett County has only been part of the task force since 2009, when it expanded from three to six jurisdictions. Joining this organization makes Gwinnett residents' safer, Gwinnett fire and police department officials said.

"They can have piece of mind that no matter where they are in metro Atlanta they are going to get quality service," said Capt. Chuck Amason of the Gwinnett County Hazmat team.