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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006

Emergency drills test agencies' teamwork

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

More than 350 government officials yesterday morning helped stage the emergency response that might happen if a bus explosion, an overturned gas tanker and an attempted suicide bomber all happened with a full crowd at Aloha Stadium.

The series of staged emergencies helped the Honolulu Police Department, the Honolulu Fire Department, emergency medical services crews, state sheriffs, the FBI and other responders see how well they communicate among themselves.

City information technology director Gordon Bruce said each agency has its own communications network, but the separate operations are working to come together when needed.

Much of the effort is driven by federal grants that became available after the Sept. 11 attacks showed the vulnerabilities of separate communications networks for key responders.

Bruce said the challenge is: "Can we bring all of those disparate systems together under one communications platform?"

Yesterday, the answer seemed to be pointing toward yes, a good effort at joint communication that also identified some gaps. "The radios worked well with each of the agencies," he said, offering clear technical communication among the various agencies.

With multiple faux events, he said police and fire officials each took command of different events and then talked to each other.

In a real emergency, even the issue of who is in charge can be critical, Bruce said, but not always clear-cut. "It depends; sometimes it's who got there first," he said.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann used a sports analogy to explain the other value of rehearsing the crises: "Practice makes perfect."

Bruce said having the people work out the rough spots bridges more than just the technical issues. "You can put the technology together, but the people have to know how to use it."

Next time they test, Bruce wants to see them do more than talk. He hopes they will practice exchanging data, instant messaging and even sending videotape.

In that scenario, crews at the scene can send a video of the bomb to the bomb experts before anyone else gets close.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.