By John Schaffner
It seems clear that Atlanta has an emergency evacuation plan, but it’s unclear how up to date it is, according to recent interviews with top public safety officials.
Both Atlanta interim Fire Chief Joel G. Baker and interim Police Chief George N. Turner said recently that the city had a plan, but they could not say when it last was reworked.
“I almost want to say, ‘yes,’ ” Baker said when asked recently if the city has an emergency evacuation plan. “I can recall working on one years ago in conjunction with the Fulton County Emergency Management Agency.”
But Baker said he was then transferred from the terrorism task force to another job in the department. “I am not sure it (the plan) was ever produced,” he said.
Later that day, Baker called to say his staff had found a copy of an emergency plan for the city that had been produced in 2006. He said that plan was actually produced in conjunction with the Fulton County Emergency Management agency as well as representatives from some surrounding city and county public safety agencies.
Baker said there probably is a need for the group to get back together and review and update the document. He said he plans to put together a strategic task force within the Fire/Rescue Department “to see how effective this plan is today and how prepared we are in the department to implement it.”
Questions about the plan arose after a pair of recent meetings attended by Buckhead civic and business leaders. During a Buckhead Leadership Forum, Basil restaurant owner Kim Kahwach heard security specialist Frank Skinner speak about possible terrorist attacks on shopping malls and saw images of malls blowing up.
Skinner retired from the U.S. Marines in 1990 and began working as a security specialist and trainer to prominent families, political leaders and businesses. While in the Marines, Skinner was part of a group that developed and introduced “Explosive Entry” procedures to civilian law enforcement and military special operations groups for the purpose of counter-terror operations. He now is a contractor for the U.S. government.
After hearing Skinner’s presentation, Kahwach attended a meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, where she chairs the group’s safety committee. Atlanta’s new Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman also was attending the meeting.
Kawach asked whether Atlanta had an emergency evacuation plan to deal with disasters or other major incidents.
Aman said he was not sure if the city did have such a plan.
That, too, was the initial reaction from Baker, who along with Turner also attended the presentation by Skinner, author of the book “Cook, Baker Candlestick Maker.”
Turner said Atlanta has had a citywide emergency evacuation plan for several years, but he could not immediately say how old the document might be.
“Every segment and quadrant of the city is covered by the plan,” he said. “What we are working toward now is developing a metro-wide emergency evacuation plan,” Turner added.
He said a committee has been formed within the Atlanta Police Department to work on that plan. The city will work with surrounding jurisdictions to produce that broader preparedness plan, he said.
Asked how often he felt such a plan should be thoroughly reviewed and possibly updated, Turner said, “We need to continue to plan. We are constantly working with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Fulton County Emergency Management people.”
He said the plan needs to be reviewed at least quarterly.
He said the various jurisdictions participate in a quarterly “table-top” training related to the emergency plans. “The city of Atlanta was responsible for the last one two months ago,” he added.
He referred to the transient nature of the city of Atlanta, with a large influx of daytime workforce from outside the city. If a major disaster occurs in the city during working hours, “we have a great challenge ahead of us,” Turner said.