Monday, September 12, 2016

Reflections on September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001 I was working as an EMT at Minquas Fire Company No. 2 in Downingtown.  I remember I was in the process of washing an ambulance when my partner came out of the back room and commented a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  Being a New Yorker, I thought well that's unfortunate – thinking it was simply a small commuter plane that got lost in the clouds.  I turned the news on and continued washing the ambulance and then the second plane hit and more planes were missing.  I, like many of you, will never forget this day.  I, like many of you, will never forget the ultimate sacrifice brave Americans made that day. I, like many of you, will never forget the ultimate sacrifice so many of our brave Americans and allies have made every day since September 11, 2001…and continue to make.

I took a moment today to pause and reflect on a number of thoughts and emotions. One of them, from a professional perspective, is what weve managed to accomplish in the past 15 years.  I look at the almost $26M in federal homeland security grant funding Chester County has either directly or indirectly benefited from and I ask myself what have we accomplished?  Have we made a difference?  Are we any better prepared?  The overwhelming answer is: Yes. We’ve accomplished a lot. Weve made and continue to make a difference. We are better prepared.

For one, our relationships with our partners – both within the county borders and out – are much stronger.  Our region played host to two major events thrusting Philadelphia and our region into the spotlight for flawless execution. We were deeply involved in the planning for these events, we had unparalleled information and intelligence exchange, and supported the City in ways we would have never imagined.

I think our emergency responders and the emergency response system is significantly stronger. We have been able to augment our staff within the Chester County Department of Emergency Services to provide the service the emergency responders and citizens deserve and expect. To that point, Chester County became the first local jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to achieve full Emergency Management Accreditation status from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), no small feat. The City of Philadelphia is the only other local jurisdiction to achieve the same status.

Our emergency responders have critical tools and critical teams at their disposal. The Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) project has helped identify stolen vehicles, lost Alzheimer patients, Amber alert-wanted vehicles, and wanted subjects.  These readers, installed on police cars throughout the southeast Pennsylvania region, scan more than 25,000,000 license plates a year. And specialty teams such as the Chester County Rescue Task Force have significantly enhanced our capabilities in-county and throughout the region.

Thanks to the support of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, we have a state-of-the-art Public Safety Training Facility. The final phase, the indoor Law Enforcement Firing Range, has officially kicked off and work has begun. We now host more than 20,000 emergency responders and community members a year at the Campus.

Our communications capabilities – for emergency responders and the public – have significantly improved. We have just migrated to a new, state-of-the-art Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) System, Mobile Data System, and Mobile for Public Safety (MPS) System all of which are giant leaps forward in technology and, more importantly, responder safety. We have a new, state-of- the-art radio system providing 99.8% portable, on-street radio coverage.  We are implementing unparalleled levels of interoperability – to the point that once fully implemented a police officer will be able to pursue a criminal across county boundaries and never lose communication with fellow officers or their dispatcher and never having to touch their radio.

The public has benefited through a new public notification system – Ready Chesco – providing timely, accurate, location-specific warnings and advisories. We also now have the ability of altering the public using the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) – pushing life-saving alerts to roadside signs, billboards, and cell phones.

And, finally, we have seen significant benefit from the investments made in the name of homeland security from an all-hazards perspective.  Many of the relationships, training, and equipment obtained were utilized in the February 2014 ice storm. Everything from Traffic Sign Boards obtained for fire police, to shelters and mass care for humans and animals, to the countless volunteers and teams staffing support structures.

With that, thank you to the emergency responders, the military, and their families; thank you to our elected officials; and, thank you to our citizens for all you do every single day. Your sacrifices are not forgotten and do not go unnoticed.

Robert J. Kagel Director
September 11, 2016

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