Since 2003, Portland Metropolitan Region partners have strategically utilized more than $65 million from the Urban Areas Security Initiatives (UASI) grant program, along with local investments and other Department of Homeland Security grant funding to develop and maintain local and regional plans and agreements; establish coordination mechanisms; train specialty response and recovery teams; and purchase and maintain a range of emergency response equipment and supplies. As a result of these regional preparedness efforts, first responding agencies and communities are better positioned, individually and collectively around the region, to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from a range of human caused, natural and technological events.
Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Capabilities
As part of a collaborative effort, Fire/EMS agencies in the region have strategically purchased critical equipment, developed plans, and trained and exercised key specialty teams. Their efforts have improved regional capabilities to detect, neutralize, contain, dismantle and dispose of Chemical, Radiological, Biological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) materials; locate and rescue trapped victims; and mount medical surge operations to respond to mass casualty incidents.
“Our philosophy is multi-pronged and interdisciplinary. Above all, we believe in organizational resiliency and cohesive decision-making. Our highest priority is for our organizations to be functional and operational during a catastrophic event. Our second priority is group consensus and decision-making. These qualities are essential in any disaster response.” -- The RDPO Fire/EMS Work Group
Tiered CBRNE and All-Hazards Response Capabilities
In the last decade, the Fire/EMS Work Group of the RDPO has established a two-tiered system of CBRNE and all-hazard response and mitigation capabilities in the region. Tier One capabilities include the first responding Fire and Rescue companies that are trained and equipped to an awareness level and basic response capability for radiation, chemical agent, search and rescue, and other incidents. All firefighters in the region are trained to this level. Tier Two capabilities include specialty teams, e.g., Hazardous Materials (HazMat), Technical Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue, based in the larger fire departments in the Portland Metropolitan Region. These teams have advanced training and specialized equipment to respond to and mitigate CBRNE and a range of other emergency incidents. The Tier Two specialty teams can be deployed anywhere needed in the region by utilizing intergovernmental mutal aid agreements that have been adopted by our jurisdictions. Fire/EMS partners operate under a regional concept of operations to ensure effective coordination of CBRNE response.
Fire and EMS Equipment
One of Fire/EMS's roles is to establish infrastructure for rescue and medical treatment where none exists or is needed to support incidents in which the number of casualties overwhelms normal EMS and hospital resources — also known as Mass Casualty Incidents. CBRNE Heavy Squads are one such example (see photo). They are fire apparatus (i.e., large fire trucks) carrying specialized CBRNE response equipment. Utilizing UASI funding and other resources, the RDPO Fire/EMS Work Group and its affiliated CBRNE Heavy Squad Captain’s Task Force have strategically deployed six specialized CBRNE heavy squads around the region: four in MultnomahCounty, one in Washington County and one in Clackamas County. Two other lighter squads are being established in Clark and Columbia Counties. The intention is to ensure that in a worst case scenario, such as a Cascadia 9.0 earthquake, squads are well-situated to serve impacted areas.
Exercising Identifies Capability Gaps and Improves Fire/EMS Performance
The RDPO Fire/EMS regional partners work collaboratively to plan and develop regional CBRNE and all hazards capabilities by identifying gaps and applying lessons learned from joint exercises and actual incidents that test specialty teams’ skills, equipment and concepts of operation. Since 2010, RDPO Fire partners have coordinated or participated in at least one regional or state-level exercise each year centered on search and rescue, HAZMAT/CBRNE and other incident scenarios, on land and on water.