By Karen Kennedy
Congresswoman Susan Brooks, (R-Ind) chairperson of the subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, hosted a field hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee Aug. 6 at Carmel City Hall. The purpose of the hearing was to assess Central Indiana’s preparedness for a mass casualty event. In addition to Brooks, the committee was comprised of Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, and Rep. Todd Young.
Two panels presented information and answered questions from the committee. The first panel was comprised of local and regional emergency officials and first responders, and the second panel was comprised of health care and trauma experts. The second panel also included the CEO of the MESH Coalition, which is a unique public-private partnership which brings together public and private hospitals and health organizations as well as public safety agencies.
Predominant themes throughout the panels included: the importance of communication of emergency management officials across city and county lines; taking an integrated approach to the various environments in Central Indiana such as rural, urban and collegiate; prioritizing disaster preparedness training; and planning for the assistance of citizens who may not be able to act on public instruction themselves, such as non-English speakers and elderly persons.
The committee also discussed the differences in disaster preparedness procedures for planned events, such as the Super Bowl, accidents, such as the recent I-465 bus crash, acts of domestic or international terrorism, such as the Boston Marathon, natural disasters, such as the Henryville tornado and environmental threats, such as an influenza outbreak.
Overall, the panelists all expressed that they felt confident that their teams have been properly trained for any type of disaster.
“I am encouraged by the Hoosier State’s level of preparation and coordination,” Brooks said at the conclusion of the hearings. “Our emergency management community should be proud of its efforts and much of its work can help inform agencies and organizations in other states. I’m glad the hearing provided a chance to showcase some of this good work to a national audience.”
“Moving forward,” she continued, “ I believe we must continue to emphasize planning exercises. Our hospitals, using valuable resources like MESH, must continue to coordinate and practice together. The best way to be prepared is to conduct real world simulations and train for a wide range of scenarios including chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 commission stated that a ‘failure of imagination’ made us extremely vulnerable to such a devastating attack. In Indiana, and elsewhere, we must not let a failure of imagination prevent us from preparing for real threats – whether they’re natural or man-made – that most certainly exist.”
Carmel is the only city to have hosted a congressional field hearing in Indiana during the 133th congress, and this particular approach to a quorum on disaster preparedness is unprecedented in the country.