Pa. Guard facilitates emergency communication best practices
Maj. Victor Yartz, left, Pennsylvania National Guard, and Sgt. Craig Polen, Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Communications Information Services, work together at the FEMA Region 3-facilitated Fall Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 3, 2021. Pennsylvania State Police set-up their mobile command center at the event. (Photo Credit: Lt. Col. Angela King-Sweigart) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - More than 60 emergency management communicators gathered in-person and virtually to discuss disaster communications and best practices Nov. 3-4.

The FEMA Region 3-facilitated Fall Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group improves interoperability between agencies at the federal, state and local level and private industries, according to Charlie Guddemi, co-chair of the working group and the D.C. Statewide Interoperability Coordinator and emergency manager at the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

“Because,” he said, “communication is important on a daily basis but becomes even more important during an emergency.”

Pennsylvania National Guard Maj. Victor Yartz concurred.

“You can’t send the right people and assets to the right place in an emergency without communications,” said Yartz, who facilitated the group’s meeting at the installation.

The group chose Fort Indiantown Gap due to its central location and facilities.

The attendees appreciated the face-to-face interaction, the first in several years due to pandemic restrictions, according to Jorge Vidal, chair of the group and regional emergency communication coordinator for FEMA Region 3.

“I am new to this position,” he said. “Seeing people and putting a face to them as opposed to virtually is helpful. It is all a learning experience. There’s been a lot of questions, and that’s good.”

Over two days, the attendees had an opportunity to improve partnerships and learn from one another, said Yartz.

Topics covered included updates from the entities in FEMA Region 3 (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and District of Columbia); an update on FirstNet, a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders; and a static display of the Pennsylvania State Police mobile command center.

Participants studied the June collapse of the Surfside condo in Florida that killed 98 people, and the Christmas Day 2020 bombing in Nashville, Tennessee, adjacent to an AT&T network hub that disrupted communications throughout the Southeast. After the case studies, participants did a tabletop exercise based on the bombing scenario.

The group plans more training events in the future.

“Interoperability stems from personal relationships, and the face-to-face plenary provides an opportunity to strengthen that,” said Guddemi.

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