Mayor Don Wesely today announced that the City of Lincoln is receiving $400,000 in federal funds to enhance the community’s ability to respond to an emergency incident involving biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. The Lincoln Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team has also been named one of six Weapons of Mass Destruction Task Forces in the country and will receive about $580,000 for training and equipment.
"The city was seeking this funding before last month’s terrorist attacks, but these projects have added significance since September 11," said Mayor Wesely. "We are confident that Lincoln is ready to respond to any disaster situation. We appreciate this federal assistance to help enhance our preparedness."
The Mayor signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August to develop a Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS). The development process is expected to take 18 months to two years, and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department will hire a coordinator for the project.
"The MMRS process will involve a wide range of organizations and individuals from the public and private sectors," said Bruce Dart, Health Director. "Our goal is to prepare the Lincoln area for a planned, integrated and coordinated medical response in case of an emergency. That could be a natural disaster or a terrorist attack including nuclear, biological or chemical weapons."
Dart said the grant announced by the Governor yesterday to establish a Health Alert Network will also be very valuable in preparing the state to handle bioterrorism incidents. The Nebraska Health and Human Services System is receiving $120,000 a year for the next five years from the Centers for Disease Control to provide communication links among health care providers and public health agencies.
The Fire Department team, Nebraska Task Force One, recently assisted with recovery operations in New York. As a Weapons of Mass Destruction Task Force, the team will received additional training and equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"FEMA had 25 applications for this program, and site visits were made to evaluate our operation using very stringent criteria," said Fire Chief Mike Spadt. "We ranked first in our region, which again demonstrates the high caliber of employees who serve our city every day." The other five task forces selected for the program are based in Virginia Beach, New York, Texas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Lancaster County Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Ahlberg said the city received about $280,000 from the federal government in 2000 for training on response to biological, chemical and nuclear warfare. The funding was also used to purchase biological monitoring equipment.
Since September 11, Police Chief Tom Casady said his department has applied for funding for an increased number of gas masks for its tactical units. A detective has been assigned to coordinate all intelligence information related to terrorism. Casady has participated in the weekly Nebraska-Iowa anti-terrorism task force meetings at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Omaha. The Police Department has also obtained and trained on Chem-Bio protective equipment.
Since the September 11 attacks on America and the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan, the federal government is indicating that there is a possibility of additional terrorist attacks in the country.
"While Lincoln is less likely to be targeted than other larger metropolitan cities, we
need to be prepared for the possibility of an attack," Wesely said. "If there are
attacks here or elsewhere, the city will again coordinate all emergency activities and
communication to keep the public informed. I would again gather our city department heads
along with the leadership of the schools, the Airport Authority and relief agencies to
respond to the emergency. We would again take action to make sure children in our schools
are safe and our public infrastructure and utilities are secure."