Aug. 6, 2007 - 7:54 p.m.

FEMA Courses Aided Quick Response, Officials Say

By Eileen Sullivan, CQ Staff

The swift response to the deadly collapse of an eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis last week is partially attributed to two Federal Emergency Management Agency courses emergency-responders took in the past five years, city officials said.

More than 100 agencies were involved in the Minneapolis response, and among the first steps officials took after the collapse was to set up a unified command center to coordinate everyone involved, said Kristi Rollwagen, deputy director of Minneapolis’ Emergency Preparedness agency. "Right out of the gate [we] went to a unified command model," Rollwagen said in an interview with Congressional Quarterly. In addition, all 80 patients were transported to 20 hospitals in one hour and 53 minutes, she said.

In 2002, city officials attended an incident command course hosted by FEMA in Mt. Weather, Va. And in 2005, Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Metropolitan Medical Response System teams participated in a FEMA-hosted course in Anniston, Ga. Rollwagen said the MMRS course really strengthened relationships among emergency management and hospital officials. This course, however, was eliminated in 2005 - much to the Minneapolis agency’s disappointment. Rollwagen said the city has been asking FEMA to reinstate the course for the past two years. Rollwagen said the MMRS course in particular "really has gotten our local public health agencies in the loop, and they are running our family assistance center, and they’re operating in an incident command structure, which [they] wouldn’t have known how to do without the course."

The 2005 MMRS course attended by 79 medical and emergency management officials from Minneapolis and St. Paul was designed to integrate medical and emergency management officials and help them prepare to respond to an emergency with mass casualties caused by an attack involving weapons of mass destruction, according to FEMA.

This specific course is no longer offered through FEMA because of funding cuts, FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said. But he said the integrated emergency management course program has numerous other versions, including training for responses to earthquakes, all-hazards and hazardous materials, and the courses are offered to communities at virtually no cost. Communities are responsible for trainees’ meal costs during their stay, he said.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security sponsors another course for governors and their senior staffs, as well as to leaders in major urban areas. The Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security provides Mobile Education Teams that go out into the community and execute a four-hour policy seminar. The center has done about 80 of these seminars since 2003, said Glen Woodbury, the associate director of executive programs for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

Eileen Sullivan can be reached at

Source: CQ Homeland Security
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