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Ref: New Mexico responders share new technology and information with public and industry

Daily Times

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Ready for anything: Farmington Emergency response gets boost from Homeland Security

Staff Writer

Farmington Firefighter Jared Thornburg puts away a Sabre 4000, a... (Lindsay Pierce/The Daily Times)
— By Cory Frolik —

The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Whether or not the region is a likely target for terrorists, local officials say Farmington has received sufficient Homeland Security Defense grants in recent years to purchase equipment that will help prepare the area for numerous emergency situations.

The fruits of those grants were on display Tuesday at the Farmington Fire Department Station No. 6 during the annual training and education session of the San Juan County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Oil and gas industry members were encouraged to tour and get familiar with the equipment.

Equipment purchased with the Homeland Security Defense grants include a mass-decontamination trailer, a bomb robot, a total containment vessel that can detonate explosives, Haz Mat detection equipment and new satellite and computer systems for a special response mobile command unit. The event served as a kind of "show and tell" to showcase all of the equipment Homeland Security Defense grants have
purchased in recent years. On display on the bay floor were decontamination tents, detector instruments and other devices.
Traci Hearn, San Juan County emergency management coordinator, said the purpose of the LEPC annual training session is to introduce the industry and the public to the response equipment available in emergencies.

In addition to the equipment showcase, Tuesday was Tier 2 reporting day.

Any oil field companies that maintain a large amount of hazardous materials must file an inventory report with the state, the local emergency management agency and local fire departments.

"The significance of today was that each year, the Local Emergency Planning Committee mandates that there's a Tier 2 reporting day for every industry and each company that carries (a certain threshold) of hazardous materials to report each January their inventory to the county and the state," HazMat Coordinator Mike Mestas said.

The state, the local emergency management agency and the fire department all load the inventory into a chemical database. The database is used as a reference guide for response measures.

"It helps knowing what you have instead of going in blind," said Farmington Fire Department Capt. Doug Walker, who is also a hazardous materials technician.

Farmington Fire Department Capt. Jos Lesscher hopes he never needs a nerve agent detector, because any situation where such a detector would be required would not mean good news for the region. But Lesscher says the fire department and the regional Haz Mat team must be prepared for dangerous situations.

Local emergency responders need to be ready, Mestas said. "9/11 changed everything."

Not long ago, the capabilities of the Farmington HazMat team, the Farmington Fire Department and the Farmington Police Department's Bomb Squad were much more limited. But following the Sept. 11 , 2001 attacks, the United States government decided the country needed to be prepared for terrorism.

Homeland Security Defense grants were awarded to local HazMat and police agencies throughout the nation. And because the Farmington Haz Mat team is one of three regional response teams in the state, it was the beneficiary of federal funds to improve its response capabilities.

Lesscher says the most recent federal funding went to the purchase of a new communications system and satellite equipment in the special response unit and to help purchase bio-detection systems, radio isotope identification and a device that detects drugs and explosives.

When it comes to communications, desktop computers were replaced with laptops and the special response unit is now equipped with satellite feeds that maintains Internet and cell phone contact even outside of normal cell phone range.

The national debate over how Homeland Security funding should be used continues. Mestas says with the exception of large metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles and New York City, the funding is depleting with each year. In Farmington, the amount of Homeland Security funding has decreased every year, Mestas said.

But Farmington's emergency agencies have built up its capabilities while they could. Lesscher said for a town that is not all that large, Farmington is protected.

"I am not going to tell you we're ready for everything that could be thrown at us. But we're good enough and we're not an easy target, and that's all we can do," he said.

Lesscher believes that "terrorists looked in the past for easy targets."

Farmington and the surrounding region, he notes, is now not an easy target.

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