In September 2001, the largest fire department in the nation faced unprecedented change. The impact of the World Trade Center (WTC) terrorist attack initiated sweeping changes in fire service training, procedures, response and preparedness. The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) created a Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness, rebuilt its Special Operations Command and increased the size of its Hazardous Material Response Group to nearly 1,000 qualified individuals. In addition, the FDNY created its own Incident Management Team (IMT).
Modeled on the U.S. Forest Service IMTs that respond nationally to wildland fires and other large-scale incidents, the FDNY IMT was the first of its kind to be created solely by a structural fire department, and it has become crucial to increasing New York’s disaster preparedness. Further, it has played a critical role in disaster response in the years following 9/11. But the lessons learned from developing and training the IMT are not only applicable to the FDNY; they are also valuable for other departments looking to enhance their disaster preparedness.
Following the WTC disaster, the McKinsey Report titled “Increasing FDNY’s Preparedness” recommended the creation of an FDNY IMT specializing in terrorism and urban disaster. Team members were selected and trained in 2002 and 2003 (see sidebar at end of article). Less than 3 years later, FDNY successfully deployed a fully staffed, qualified IMT to New Orleans to support the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Although the challenge of establishing an IMT was significant, keeping the team trained and ready to respond has proved equally challenging. To do so, the FDNY employs a multifaceted strategy:
- Hands-on training is accomplished by deploying team members with activated IMTs as trainees and as fully qualified individuals. In addition, FDNY qualified members serve as full-time team members on both the Southwest Type 1 IMTs.
- Classroom training is accomplished through annual IMT task-specific courses taught by hired instructors who are supported by qualified FDNY members.
- Operational training is accomplished through complex urban simulation exercises. On average, the FDNY IMT conducts four exercises each year. The exercises simulate manmade and natural disasters and focus on scenarios provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Exercises conducted thus far include a terrorist bombing of a transportation center, a terrorist train derailment, a commercial airline accident, a major earthquake in Manhattan, a catastrophic chlorine accident, a radiological detonation and a Category 2 hurricane.
Jerome MacDonald is the training coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Southwest region; he conducted the FDNY IMT’s initial training and also arranged for FDNY personnel to attend IMT courses required for deployment as a resource to major wildland fires.
Required incident command system (ICS) courses are available nationally and are posted online at www.nationalfiretraining.net. In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration is in the process of providing specific command and general staff courses with an emphasis on all-risk events. FDNY audits the training needs of the IMT each year. Based on the priorities produced by the audit, FDNY hosts specific training at its Fire Academy. Available seats are posted on the training Web site. In 2005 and 2006, approximately 130 FDNY personnel and 50 personnel from other agencies successfully completed more than 300 individual classes.
In 2005, the Cave Creek Complex in central Arizona provided FDNY IMT members with their first opportunity to train on a live wildland fire incident. Cave Creek was a colossal wildland fire, burning more than 250,000 acres and threatening 12 communities. Two zones were required, both managed by Southwest Type 1 IMTs. Both ICs, Dan Oltrogge and Jeff Whitney, requested FDNY trainees as supervisory resources. Nine FDNY individuals served as trainees in safety, logistics, planning and operations. The FDNY trainees performed tasks similar to probationary officers, working 16-hour tours under the mentoring of qualified members. Oltrogge and Whitney took a considerable risk in using FDNY personnel on the fire, as it had never been done before. But the outcome was successful; not only did the FDNY personnel provide valuable assistance, but the fire was complex enough that six members were able to attain task-specific qualifications.
The success of the FDNY response to the Cave Creek Complex paved the way for a model of interagency cooperation between the Southwest IMTs and the FDNY. The Southwest IMTs continue to call for FDNY resources on major wildland fires and national incidents, and they intend to rely heavily on FDNY when called to urban events. As of this writing, 87 FDNY individuals have responded to 160 wildland fire assignments. In addition, 65 members of the FDNY IMT responded to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Returning the favor, the Southwest IMTs play a vital role in response to urban disasters. In 2006, Chief Bob Anderson of the Spokane (Wash.) Fire District completed his term as IC of the Pacific Northwest-3 Type 1 IMT (PNW3). During Anderson’s reign, PNW3 supported logistics needs at the WTC at a massive receiving and distribution center in New Jersey and relieved the first wave of the FDNY IMT in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Exercise No. 1: Category 2 Hurricane
Although classroom learning and wildfire response proved successful in teaching FDNY IMT members critical aspects of complex operational response, more training was needed to prepare the team for disasters specific to New York. In May 2006, Anderson and members of PNW3 traveled to New York as instructors in a weeklong command and general staff qualifying course, S-420, consisting of 47 students from 14 agencies. The individual students represented structural fire, wildland fire and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The S-420 course includes satisfactory completion of a complex simulation including preparation of an incident action plan (IAP) for the next operational period (for more about IAPs, see “Ready for Anything” by Brett Martinez and Don Lynch, April 2007). Traditionally, the exercise simulates a wildland fire. For the purposes of the FDNY IMT, an exercise design team created an all-risk simulation that mirrored the complexity of the traditional wildland fire simulation, but depicted a situation that an urban fire department was more likely to face: a Category 2 hurricane striking the area between New York City and Nassau County.
After Miami and New Orleans, New York City is the third most hurricane-susceptible major U.S. city. The realistic worst-case scenario for New York is the eye of a Category 3 storm striking New Jersey, with New York City immediately to the east (east of the eye is considered the most devastating). The threat to New York is compounded by the geographic right angle of Long Island and the mainland, with Manhattan at the apex. Such a hurricane places 2.3 million citizens in the inundation zone. Lower Manhattan, Coney Island, Brooklyn and Rockaway Queens would be punished by storm surges up to 30′ in height.
The FDNY IMT exercise focused on support operations on the Rockaway Peninsula and surrounding occupied islands. The exercise design team reduced the impact and complexity of the event by inserting a mostly adhered-to ordered evacuation. The IMT was assigned to apply the ICS process and respond to approximately 50 information inputs of varied complexity, received by telephone, radio and in person from role players at the incident command post. The IMT was directed to address search and rescue, fire suppression, pre-hospital medical care, security and hazardous materials response. All 47 students passed the simulation and the course.
The combination of the design team’s research and the tactics formulated by talented students participating in the simulation exercises produce valuable lessons. These challenges and suggested solutions are forwarded to the FDNY chief of planning, Deputy Assistant Chief James Manahan, who considers whether they merit changes in current procedures or the formation of new procedures.
Preparation and training must be focused on the reasonable worst-case scenario. In New Orleans, the 2003 Hurricane Pam exercise identified many of the same consequences the city experienced during Hurricane Katrina, but many of those consequences weren’t addressed prior to the hurricane. Following Katrina, New York City actively addressed hurricane preparedness. In addition to examining the New Orleans response, the IMT simulation exercise development team interviewed FDNY Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) members who operated in Mississippi.
A hurricane in New York City would cause similar damage to the southern shores of New York City as Katrina did to Mississippi. In addition to the 2.3 million citizens in the inundation zone, there are numerous nursing homes in the Rockaway and Coney Island sections. The two counties to the east, on Long Island, would be similarly impacted. Such complexity would eliminate the counties’ ability to support each other with mutual aid. All the impacted agencies would be competing for national resources. The successful ability to field two IMTs with prior knowledge of anticipated problems would increase operational results.
The actions of first responders in the first 6 hours after an event are critical, especially the ability to safely rescue victims. By researching the inundation zone, the IMT identified an area in Rockaway close to operations but safe from flooding. Pre-staging of equipment, supplies and provisions provides the ability for 200 responders to operate immediately after the floodwaters recede for up to 96 hours. Following this exercise, FDNY also secured city buildings in the dry zone that can be used as staging or recuperation areas, and signed agreements with the owners that will be activated in the event of a declared evacuation.
One weakness the exercise detected occurred in the finance administration section: Some members, including those from other agencies, were lacking procurement experience. In the event of a disaster, IMTs must have the ability to hire qualified critical resources.
Exercise No. 2: New York City Earthquake
In the winter of 2006, the FDNY IMT design team created a simulation exercise involving a Manhattan earthquake. The event was based on disaster scenarios supplied by the DHS. Prior to the exercise, the majority of the design team believed that a major earthquake in New York City was unrealistic. But after some preliminary research, the team realized that many experts believe New York is not only susceptible to an earthquake, it is actually overdue for one. New York City is the fourth most earthquake-prone location in North America. To make matters worse, unlike California, where city building codes often mandate earthquake resistance, New York construction is very vulnerable to damage. An earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale in New York would result in damages similar to a 6.0 earthquake in Los Angeles.
The FDNY IMT was tasked with supporting operations in Manhattan following a 6.0 earthquake. Following an agency administrator and IC briefing, the team received 48 inputs to respond to, including search and rescue, pre-hospital medical care, fire suppression, hazmat operations and support of first responders. The team simulated assuming management of midtown Manhattan within 6 hours of the disaster.
When performing extensive search-and-rescue operations, IMTs must follow universal search and building-marking procedures. Different procedures result in duplication of effort, inefficient searches and unsafe practices. The use of existing FEMA US&R building markings provides extensive information and serves as a record of search status. To ensure that search-and-rescue personnel used US&R markings, Operations Section Chiefs participating in the exercise included copies of the document describing FEMA US&R search procedures in the IAP. In addition, during the simulated operations briefing, the Operations Section Chiefs described the assigned procedure and directed line supervisors to the appropriate pages in the IAP.
The earthquake exercise included numerous unit leaders to support the section chiefs. Adding individuals to the simulation is a good practice, provided it is manageable. For example, the Logistics Section has the ability to add six unit leaders: Facilities Unit Leader, Supply Unit Leader, Communications Unit Leader, Food Unit Leader, Medical Unit Leader and Ground Support Unit Leader. Adding personnel exposes additional members to the training; however, the sections must work as a team.
During simulations exercises for complex sections, consider designating both a section chief and a deputy section chief. When too many individuals represent a section during a 6-9-hour exercise, the section often moves to its own room or section of a room. Valuable information is not shared due to focus on specific assignments.
In addition, when too many individuals participate in an exercise, it’s difficult for the evaluators to follow all the students’ actions. A minimum of two evaluators per team are necessary for satisfactory assessment. More than 14 participants infringes on unmanageable span of control for evaluators. When using more than 14 participants, assign a third evaluator specifically to one section.
The IMT training coordinator assigns some members to a level of supervision higher than the individual is trained. Although it’s a sound practice to expose members to the next level in a simulation exercise, it’s not a good idea to assign all personnel to a higher level of supervision. The simulation should consist of a mix of qualified participants, trainee participants who have performed the function but not to full competency and participants experiencing their first assignment.
Exercise NO. 3: Dirty Bomb
In January 2007, the FDNY IMT design team coordinated their most complex exercise to date. The event was the detonation of a radiological bomb (also know as a “dirty bomb”) in downtown Manhattan. The design team followed the guidelines provided in the DHS National Planning Scenarios for a radiological dispersal device. The contaminated region encompassed 36 square blocks and required the evaluation and decontamination of 150,000 potential victims. National experts on radiation were consulted to create an accurate situation.
One objective of the exercise: to expose FDNY leaders to the concept and use of an Area Command, which is activated when two or more IMTs are deployed in the same vicinity. The design team divided Manhattan into three zones. The blast area was managed by a fictional team, which only provided Area Command information inputs. The surrounding area was divided into two additional geographic zones, each staffed by an IMT consisting of 14 specialized individuals. Each team was tasked with evaluating and decontaminating 75,000 victims; determining contamination perimeters; and providing pre-hospital medical care, victim transportation and support of responders assigned to its zone.
Exercises simulating complex events of national significance require a large support staff. One supporter for each participant is inadequate; plan on using at least 1.5 members for each participant. Simulation teams with detailed information of the exercise are required; each team requires three evaluators. In addition, extensive facility support is needed. Remember: Individuals assigned to support the simulation can only satisfactorily perform one function. Multitasking must be eliminated, as each task generates unique issues.
Upon activation, all of the incident command components are tasked with supporting operations. Complex simulations will inundate the Operations Section Chief, so FDNY assigns a Deputy Operations Section Chief, Planning Operations as well. The logical solution is for the chief to handle the ongoing operation in the field and the deputy chief to work closely with the Planning Section and create the Operations Section organization. The planning operations chief attends all required meetings, provides the number and type of resources required to be ordered and uses the Operations Section worksheet to create a compliant section. Close communication between the two Operations Section Chiefs is required.
The situation unit within planning becomes complex when the intelligence and investigation function is added at a terrorist act. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides the ability to assign this law enforcement competency as an independent section, a command staff position, a branch in operations or a component of the situation unit. The situation unit leader must be able to communicate with intelligence experts. If the IMT does not have an intelligence expert at a terrorist event, one must be incorporated. Intelligence experts with clearances can disseminate critical information both internally and externally.
Simulation exercises foster the formation of positive working relationships between leaders of agencies and jurisdictions. In the event of an actual disaster, such relationships are invaluable, especially during the early stages of an operation. The first time to meet counterparts is not at the actual event.
The FDNY IMT will continue to strive for improvement. We will create new complex exercises and recycle existing exercises to train new members. In addition, FDNY expects to place more individuals as full-time members on existing Type 1 IMTs.
The amount of Type 1 and Type 2 teams that order FDNY members as trainees and as qualified leaders continues to increase. Many authorities in the national response theatre believe that the specific ability of the FDNY IMT will be needed again in the near future. Continued cooperation and communication nationally will increase the likelihood of a timely request for the FDNY IMT’s assistance.
In the Beginning…
The story behind the FDNY IMT’s creation
On Sept. 12, 2001, the sky over the United States was empty save a lone commercial flight, which delivered Steve Gage’s California Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) to support operations at the Pentagon. The flight then continued on to New York to deliver Van Bateman’s Southwest Type 1 IMT to support FDNY in the rescue and recovery operation at the World Trade Center (WTC).
Initially, FDNY refused the offer for assistance. But through perseverance and professionalism, Dan Oltrogge, the Southwest IMT’s deputy incident commander (IC), convinced the department of the team’s value and ability to support FDNY.
After 35 days, the Southwest IMT was relieved by the Alaska IMT, with FDNY assuming full incident command positions in November 2001. In 2002, Chief Frank Cruthers stated that of all the resources that assisted at the WTC, the IMTs were the most successful. This led to the initiation of a concerted effort to create an IMT in New York specializing in terrorism and urban disaster.
In 2002, FDNY began selecting individuals who possessed excellent structural fire and emergency skills but whose only experience in complex, extended operations had come at the WTC. In addition, the majority of these members had little experience outside the operations section.
During the winter of 2003, 70 IMT candidates started intense training. FDNY and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) established a cooperative agreement through which the USFS facilitated the development of the FDNY IMT. The instructors were members of the IMTs that responded to the WTC, with strong representation from the Southwest and Northeast. The training was coordinated by FDNY Battalion Chief George Maier. Chief Maier has instructed incident command for the U.S. Fire Administration since 1988 and is considered a national authority on incident command.
The 90-hour IMT course included pre-course work, basic incident command classes and complex IMT components. The IMT portion of the course included three complex simulation exercises: a commercial airline crash near Kennedy Airport into a combined residential and commercial neighborhood; a terrorist bombing and partial derailment of two trains in Queens, impacting a residential neighborhood and a highway complex; and a terrorist bombing of the Holocaust Museum in Lower Manhattan.
At the conclusion of 2004, the FDNY IMT was available to deploy, but its development was stagnant. Although the IMT members possessed the skill and experience to supervise operations at most, if not all, urban events, the team did not have adequate experience in the application of the incident command system at complex operations requiring numerous operational periods. All team members had extensive experience at the WTC, but only limited experience in planning, logistics, finance and specific command positions. Simply put: FDNY IMT members required further opportunities to strengthen individual skills.
At this time, the FDNY IMT was considered a local resource. Chief Peter Hayden recognized a national void and encouraged the team to begin the process to qualify for national response. Experience at events as assigned resources was required. Chief Hayden’s direction proved prophetic, as in September 2005, the FDNY IMT deployed to New Orleans as part of the Hurricane Katrina response.