By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell | New York National GuardNovember 26, 2019
LATHAM, N.Y. - Emergency responders from across New York attended a workshop hosted by the New York National Guard to increase preparedness for mass fatality events.
The Nov. 22 training was coordinated by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The 100 attendees came from the New York State Police, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and local county emergency responders, among others. The day-long workshop focused on the latest issues and trends associated with mass fatality incidents.
"We're talking about mass fatalities and how to plan for them," said Mike Hartzel, the director of the Schoharie County Office of Emergency Services, and a retired New York Army National Guard sergeant major. "Especially in today's environment, where we have incidents, like in Schoharie County, we had the limo accident that took 20 lives."
On Oct. 6, 2018, a stretch limousine carrying 18 people ran through an intersection at the base of a hill, hit two people in the parking lot of a general store north of the village of Schoharie and plunged into a ravine. All 20 people died, and Hartzel and other first responders in the rural village were coping with a mass casualty.
Transportation accidents such as the limo crash, as well as active shooter events and natural disasters, routinely bring these agencies together to enhance their readiness to respond, Hartzel explained.
Since 2000, there have been more than 160 incidents in New York where there were 10 or more fatalities. Organizations such as the New York National Guard are always ready to help, and Hartzel said that this requires people in positions who know what resources can be requested from what agency.
"Looking at how we do the planning, what can we benefit from, what were lessons learned, and what we can do better," Hartzel said. "As emergency services, first responders and Guardsmen, we have to be prepared so when we respond to these we know who the key players are and what resources are available."
One of the points made during the workshop was that the number of agencies that respond to an incident varies depending on what resources are needed at the scene. Each agency can bring unique resources to an incident that another may not have.
"In the Schoharie County limo accident, one of the biggest things we needed was the mass fatality trailer that the Department of Health has," Hartzel said. "We have 20 victims, how do we transport them? You have to know to think about that. You need to have those resources."
Considering what resources you might need was an area of emphasis of the workshop, Hartzel said.
The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services had a specialized tent called a Mass Fatality Portable Operations Center set up at the workshop as an example of a state resource that can be requested.
First responders can request state assets such as the New York National Guard quickly and at no cost, explained Lt. Col. Michael Tagliafierro, the New York National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear regional planner. Federal assets may come at a cost and usually cannot be deployed as quickly, he added.
"We want to be ready to support our first responders and emergency management personnel," Tagliafierro said. "As the New York National Guard, what we can bring to the table is specialized facilities, equipment specially trained personnel."
"One of the conferences I did here several years ago, I talked about the importance of relationships and the importance of liaison officers," said Hartzel. "So when the county has an emergency like Hurricane Irene or something of that magnitude, you need that person who can tell you what resources are available."
As a retired command sergeant major in the New York Army National Guard, Hartzel knows what he can request from the Guard and has come to learn what else can be provided through workshops such as this. In the end, it provides a big payoff, he said.
"It stops the chaos," Hartzel said. "We're ready. We get more ready every day."