Commonwealth Journal

April 16, 2013

Local emergency personnel feel shockwaves of Boston bombings

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Whenever a tragedy occurs like Monday’s bombings in Boston, the shockwaves are felt in communities all over the rest of the nation.
Such is the case in Pulaski County, where local law enforcement and emergency response personnel kept a close eye on the goings-on in one of the top 10 most populated cities.
“You review your policies (regularly), but when something like this happens, you watch and try to learn from these situations,” said Tiger Robinson, public safety director for Pulaski County. “You can learn from other people’s situations.”
Certainly, Somerset and other local communities are very different places from Boston, attracting much less attention from would-be terrorists, and any events here are on a much smaller scale than the Boston Marathon, one of the sporting world’s top annual events. Still, the region — a tourism hub — does have its share of regular activity, and situations like Monday’s keep emergency personnel on constant vigil.
“People don’t think about all of what we have, but we have some type of major event every week in this county,” said Robinson. “There’s always something to be on watch for, to be on guard for.”
Indeed, seven months out of the year, Somernites Cruise draws massive crowds to downtown Somerset. The Master Musicians Festival this summer could be the biggest in that event’s history. Robinson also mentioned events like SomerBlast and local sports tournaments as opportunities for emergencies to hit close to home.
“You can train for it and plan for it, but I’m thankful for the EMS people and local law enforcement,” said Robinson. “They patrol (events), keep a watch for things, and do a good job staying prepared. ... We’ve got some of the best law enforcement out there. It’s a team effort.”
Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department noted that while bombings aren’t common in a town like his agency’s, bomb threats do happen. He called to mind an incident in 2011 where a man was arrested for calling in such threats to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, one of the area’s most heavily-trafficked facilities. 
Smith also recalled other instances — such as a report of a suspicious device at a Somerset church, a grenade being found in a trash can at a local elementary school, and a residence in Ferguson where a large number of explosives were found, all in the last decade or so — where such devices have been a concern for local law enforcement. The moral of the story: It can happen here.
“You have to take (threats) seriously until the situation proves itself to be false,” said Smith, who declined to release specifics about how SPD would handle this type of scenario so as not to inform potential perpetrators. “Our response to a threat like (the Boston bombings) is a simple plan, not as elaborate as you’d think. It’s relatively basic, but I think the plan would have successful results if something actually were to happen.”
Of course, “there are just so many ‘what if?’s to that,” added Smith, pointing to the always fluid situation present when disasters unfold.
Calling in for help is important. While emergency responders have plans in place, local agencies don’t have all the equipment needed to deal with bombs. There are organizations in nearby communities that do, however, like Lexington and Louisville, and Robinson said that in his role as public safety director, he would use the equipment on-hand as much as he could — one method Robinson mentioned was bomb-sniffing dogs — and call in other resources as well, including the national guard.
How can citizens help keep themselves safe? Smith said that staying alert and on watch for questionable activity is key.
“The single biggest thing that the public can do is be aware of their surroundings and report things that are suspicious,” said Smith. “People know their neighborhoods, and they know what’s out of place, or what’s not right. We get suspicious activity calls all during the day. (These calls have) found people involved in burglaries, breaking into cars, and interrupted a whole slew of criminal activity over the years. Some of it’s unfounded, but a small percentage of it turns out to be legitimate criminal activity.”
Robinson added that having contact plans in place is an important step. 
“When you have a disaster, have someplace that you can call,” said Robinson. “People get separated, but have a place you can call, a safe place. Somewhere out-of-state (is a good idea) — you may not be able to make a local call across town. Have contacts  and a check-in place for you and your family that are ready if something happens.”