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Roanoke’s Emergency Operations Center Displayed on Anniversary of 9/11

Roanoke City's Emergency Operations Center.
Roanoke City’s Emergency Operations Center.

On the 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon – not to mention a jet airliner brought down by passengers before it reached Washington DC – Roanoke City showed off its emergency preparedness with a “war room” in the basement of the municipal building downtown. A series of tables featured a land line phone on each and different departments from the city, bunched logically to help further the lines of communication – if the need to activate such as operation ever took place.

Marci Stone is the emergency services coordinator for the city; she said the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) would be activated “any time two or more agencies within the city of Roanoke are impacted beyond normal operations.” The incident commander in the field would make the call said Stone, who came to the city less than a year ago from a similar position in Bedford County. Before she went to Bedford, Stone was in Roanoke as a member of Fire-EMS on 9/11 and recalls that bright, blue September day vividly.

As for the “pods” in the EOC war room, they are set up by function: in the operations pod for example fire suppression, EMS, police, 9-1-1 dispatch and hazardous materials (Hazmat) would all sit together. “They need to be able to communicate and effectively manage their area.” After 9/11 the Bush Administration sent out directives on how all levels of government should respond to a crisis, sending out an organizational template used as a starting point.

Stone says mutual aid agreements and memorandums of understanding between jurisdictions allow for a pooling of resources, making the need to activate EOC’s rare. But large-scale events “lasting more than 12 hours” – or something that takes place and has a great financial impact on Roanoke would call for activation of the EOC, according to Stone.

“We had just taken a patient over to Roanoke Memorial Hospital when the first plane hit [in New York],” Stone recalled on the 13th anniversary. “One of the people at the hospital pulled a TV out and we started watching it while we were filling out reports.” Stone remembers it being a quiet day after that with few calls coming in.

“People were scared to even go out of their own houses … they didn’t know what was going to happen next. She still “gets chills” thinking about all the firefighters and others that were lost, and what their families must have felt. “I can’t even imagine,” said Stone.

“I thought it was important to do this today, “said Stone on September 11 this year. She recalls someone on a television interview saying 9/11 “started like any other day. This could ‘be any other day’ that we have to open an Emergency Operations Center. Any other day that we have a potential disaster or emergency that impacts us just like that.”

Hopefully the need to activate the EOC is rare but Stone and other department heads are tasked to make sure the training and protocol are in place. Because, as Stone reiterates, “you just never know.”

By Gene Marrano

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