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13-county group gets $300,000 in attack-response gear

Saturday, October 13, 2001

By Jeffrey Cohan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Allegheny County's Department of Emergency Services has received $300,000 worth of attack-response gear, paid for with a federal grant that dates back to March 2000.

Robert Full, Allegheny County's chief of emergency services and the chairman of the Region 13 Working Group, a 13-county organization that began preparing for terrorist attacks in 1998, holds a gas mask in the storeroom of the county's emergency operations center in Point Breeze on Thursday. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

The county obtained the grant on behalf of the Region 13 Working Group, a 13-county organization that began preparing for terrorist attacks in 1998.

Because manufacturers took longer than expected to fill orders, much of the gear has arrived within the last month.

The county has been distributing gas masks, hazardous-material suits and other gear from a storeroom in its emergency operations center in Point Breeze.

"This [gear] will afford emergency responders some initial protection to get people away from the scene [of a terrorist attack]," said Robert Full, Allegheny County's chief of emergency services and the chairman of the Region 13 group.

Divided among 13 counties, $300,000 worth of gear spreads thinly. The county is distributing 1,000 gas masks, 40 hazardous-material suits that cost $1,000 apiece, and 400 suits that offer a lower level of protection for $60 apiece.

The federal Office of Justice Programs has already agreed to provide another $1.7 million so Region 13 can buy more such equipment.

Most of the gear in the initial distribution is going to police departments, since fire departments generally have protective clothing.

The county also has 4,000 disposable suits that would offer modest protection to the public.

"If we're going to ask people to participate in a quick and rapid decontamination, we'll at least have some clothing to put them in," Full said.

While the county is dispersing most of the gear throughout the region, much of it can be steered in short notice to the scene of an attack, wherever it may be needed in the 13 counties.

Sharing equipment and manpower in responding to an attack is the core purpose of the Region 13 group. For instance, after United Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County on Sept. 11, Region 13 member Allegheny County sent a hazardous-materials team and protective clothing, along with a team of mental health professionals from the county Department of Human Services.

"It has become clear that we now operate with a keen sense that no city, no county is invulnerable to the specter of terrorism," Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey said.

Besides the grants from the Office of Justice Programs, Allegheny County over the last two years has received just under $1 million from the federal Office of Emergency Preparedness for terrorism-related purchases and planning.

"It's a very big and a very tall task," said David Piposzar, the emergency management coordinator for the Allegheny County Health Department.

Several federal, state and county agencies are also participating in the planning and their leaders are getting to know each other.

"When you have an [attack], that is not the time to trade business cards," Piposzar said.

While a total of $3 million in federal grants might seem like a lot of money, the Region 13 group estimates that it needs $91 million to become fully prepared, trained and equipped for a terrorist attack.

With $91 million, the group could put hazardous-material gear in every police car in the region, among other things.

The 13 counties are Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. The city of Pittsburgh also belongs to the group.

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