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Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Training for Disaster Paid Off in Metrolink Crash Response

What a difference a day makes. From September 11th to September 12th, we have come a long way. From the sadness of the Metrolink tragedy that occurred in Chatsworth, comes a learning lesson. Our technology has come a long way. Sometimes it is not always used at the right time or in the right place. Instead of using our newest technology for safety equipment on our transportation system, we have used our technology for texting someone at the wrong moment. This tragedy started at 4:22 when a text message was being sent instead of looking ahead and ended at 4:23 when two trains collided and impacted the lives of thousands of people. From that moment on, dozens of 911 calls were received by the emergency dispatchers and years of training started coming into play. Within minutes, hundreds of well-trained officers, firefighters, and paramedics were on site, well-prepared and well-equipped. Since the World Trade Center tragedy of Sept. 11, the City and County of Los Angeles have been preparing and training for many types of emergencies. This emergency was probably unlike any of the training exercises, but it was proof that they were prepared. In the last seven years, with the input of experienced people such as Sheriff Lee Baca, Police Chief William Bratton, Retired Fire Chief William Bamattre, new Fire Chief Douglas Berry, and of course many others; they have put together training, communications and procedures unlike those we have ever used before. Upon arriving at the scene, emergency personnel put their organizational structure in place. In minutes, a triage system was established to separate those with minor injuries from the people who needed immediate medical attention. Air rescue was on the scene quickly along with police, firefighters and paramedics. Hospitals were alerted city-wide and staff was updated on which hospitals could handle each type of injury. The injured were taken to several hospitals so that no one hospital would be overburdened more than others. This allowed the trauma teams at each location to focus better on those who were the most seriously injured. Every agency fell into place just as planned for this exact emergency. The Sheriff’s Department, Highway Patrol, police from many divisions, firefighters, medical staffs, along with members of numerous other organizations were set-up and ready instantly. The media played an important role in advising interested parties that they could meet at Chatsworth High School. CHS was prepared to handle hundreds of people and provide necessary services on such a short notice. Communications with all agencies went very smoothly. Our Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, along with local County Supervisors, local Council members and other elected officials were there to give their physical and mental support. The community also supported the emergency effort, bringing in food, water and supplies 24 hours a day. They further supported the effort by not getting in the way and asking a lot of questions. It was amazing how organizations such as the American Red Cross, Brent’s Deli, Howard Summers Towing, Jensen’s Market, Subway, Taco Bell, various pizza makers, and many others were bringing in food almost faster than it was being consumed. Local water suppliers made sure there was no shortage of fresh water or drinks. The people of Los Angeles owe a great debt of gratitude to our County and City public safety managers for having the foresight to learn from the tragedy of Sept. 11. Unfortunately, we all know far too well that there will be more crisis situations in the future, but it is comforting to also know that we have incredibly efficient and well-trained people to help us get through them. Rickey M. Gelb is managing general partner of Gelb Enterprises, a real estate development and property management company.

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