City Disaster Teams Share Lessons from Terrorist Attacks

February 5, 2007

Government and American Red Cross disaster experts from New York, London and Madrid — three cities hit by terrorist attacks in recent years — met last week in New York for a two-day conference to share experiences and improve response strategies.

“The common threat that brought us together is terrorism. That was our springboard,” said Jonathan Edmondson, operations manager of the British Red Cross.

He joined Carlos Paya, president of the Red Cross in Spain, and Theresa Bischoff, chief executive of the American Red Cross of Greater New York, for the first day of a two-day international symposium on how to prepare for natural or terrorist catastrophes.

The officials identified key areas that needed to be addressed: more trained volunteers, better communication systems and increased resources stored throughout their cities.

In New York, there are 3,500 Red Cross volunteers. Officials are seeking to increase that number to 10,000 trained volunteers. They plan an advertising recruitment campaign over the coming months making the public aware of the need and urging those interested to sign up.

“The risky world we live in and the humanitarian work by the Red Cross gives us a sense of urgency to grow our volunteer corps to meet our future needs,” said Bischoff.

Preparedness starts at home, Bischoff said. Families should create disaster plans establishing what to do to evacuate, including selecting meeting places outside their neighborhoods if they can’t return home. They should also keep bags with non-perishables and medical supplies for emergencies.

After the multiple bombings of the Madrid subways on March 11, 2004, volunteers showed up in droves to help workers and victims.

“It created chaos,” recalled Paya, who said the Red Cross was forced to train hundreds of volunteers on site while the disaster was unfolding.

Edmondson was one of the first on the scene of the bombings of the subways and a bus in London on July 7, 2005.

He said on his return to London he would develop a multisite disaster plan, contracting with ambulance and truck companies for additional equipment and buying cell phones from various networks in case one system becomes jammed, as occurred in Madrid and during the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

“The World Trade Center attack was a wake-up call for the Red Cross and all emergency response agencies throughout the world,” Edmondson said.

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