Preparing during these challenging times

Mark H. McCain
Principal Consultant
Public Works Emergency Management Services
St. Helena Island, South Carolina
Member APWA Emergency Management Committee

September 11, 2001 established a new standard within the public works and utilities arenas of the United States. Such events as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, along with biological and chemical incidents, have caused each service organization within the field of dealing with the infrastructure to take notice and gain a new awareness that such acts of terrorism could happen within our communities.

As we respond to the process of planning for an unknown type of act of terrorism, it has been determined that many issues within the public works arena need to be addressed. Such issues include:

  • Vulnerability assessments
  • Developing a public works terrorism annex
  • Specialized debris management
  • Large-scale incident command structures
  • Identification of response programs which may differ from a national disaster
A public works organization needs to develop and establish a vulnerability assessment team, made up of qualified members from law enforcement, fire services, hazardous materials, emergency medical services, public health, and public works. Such a team can be very beneficial in helping to identify the key issues within your community's infrastructure. Such an integrated team should utilize the threat and risk vulnerability process as established by the Department of Justice's Office of Domestic Preparedness in looking at the sites:
  • Visibility of a possible target
  • Criticality of the target to a jurisdiction
  • Value of the target to a terrorist organization in meeting its goals
  • Maximum population onsite
  • Potential for collateral mass casualties
  • Public access to the site
  • What threats exist onsite
This seven-step process is designed to help in establishing a professionally-developed ranking process to identify sites within the organization by priority that need to be properly secured.

Each community has some form or fashion of emergency management annex for natural and/or certain types of man-made disasters. At this time in our nation's need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario involving terrorism, there is no time to defer or believe that having a tailored public works terrorism annex is not necessary. Each agency must dedicate the quality planning resources along with the required discussion time to address those response and recovery issues. An opportunity to seek out such guidance in helping to address and develop such an annex is through APWA's Emergency Management Committee, along with the assistance of your municipal, county, and/or state Offices of Emergency Management.

In development of the terrorism annex for public works, one very specialized area concerns that of debris management at the crime scene involving a terrorist activity. The first item in planning should be the response with the intent to address the mission of debris management. However, keep in mind that you must not impede the law enforcement task of maintaining the integrity of the chain of custody of evidence required for a solid prosecutable case. This should be instilled into the employees of the departments that respond to assist—that any item, ever so small, may be important to the needs of the FBI and other such evidence-response teams.

Leadership and a strong organizational structure are imperative during the first moments, hours, and days after a major disaster event has taken place. Through the use of the Incident Command System and the Unified Command System, out of chaos can come discipline in the worst of times. Yet there is a perception that such organizational structures are only found in the fire service. It is true that this service was one of the originators of the program, but today this universally-adopted, goal-driven program is found in all areas of local through federal government. One such shining star is the City of Portland, Oregon, which has adopted this process of addressing a disaster in all areas of their public works organizational structure. Additionally, there are presently states that require the participation in such a higher structure of responding to an incident, to receive Public Assistance Disaster Recovery Funding.

Recently a number of public works leaders were assembled to develop a method of defining the specialized needs of public works organizations to respond to an act of terrorism. There was one very clear identifier present of which approximately seventy-five percent of the issues were noted, that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) response activities are included in the general planning for a natural and/or man-made incident. It was the remaining twenty-five percent which generated the uncertainty and required additional consideration to include:

  • Personal protection equipment
  • Decontamination of personnel and equipment
  • Biological agents
  • Chemical agents beyond the generally accepted industrial products
  • Specialized debris management programs
  • The issues of possible loss of: (1) Major portions of the infrastructure; (2) Loss of the financial stability of the community; (3) Large loss of life
  • Containment and decontamination programs
  • Public policy and dealing with the loss of confidence of a public works function or service
In these times of uncertainty, each public works organization throughout our nation must assess its present position as to how it can assure the leadership, as well as the customer base, that as much as possible has been done to assure that acts of terrorism have been mitigated. Our financial, personnel, and supporting agencies must be involved in the preparation for responding to any possible acts of terrorism involving a weapon of mass destruction.

To reach Mark H. McCain, call (843) 838-2787 or send e-mail to