Police, fire, health workers say they need more protection in responding to terrorist attacks

Tuesday, August 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Police officers, firefighters, health care workers and others who would be the first to respond to a terrorist attack say they need better protection, according to a study released Wednesday.

The 174-page report by the Rand Corp., a California-based think tank, said responders don't know how well their clothing would protect them, or how well their current equipment would function. They said that they often cannot talk to one another because radios work on different frequencies.

``Men and women who choose to risk their lives to save the lives of others are telling us they need better protection, better safety training equipment and better coordination to do their jobs,'' said Tom LaTourrette, lead author of the study, which is based on interviews with 190 people in 60 communities.

The responders said they would like lighter-weight equipment and protective clothing, handsfree radios, better training and new tools to detect the hazards they face. One problem is that they have few choices when it comes to personal protection no matter what the hazard ``because protection options are very limited to begin with,'' the report said.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, first responders are very concerned about the dangers and casualties that could result from another terrorist attack.

``Terrorism is on everybody's mind,'' said D.J. Peterson, the project leader. ``Protecting themselves against terrorist incidents is their greatest priority. In the past, the big terrorist threat might have been a pipe bomb at a school. Now we're talking about entire buildings coming down. The scale has changed.''

Congressional Democrats have tried to add millions of dollars for first responders and other security priorities to spending bills for the new Homeland Security Department, but the majority Republicans have defeated those efforts, saying that the department gets enough money. House and Senate Republicans this summer rejected Democratic efforts to reduce tax cuts for millionaires and use the money for homeland security.

Peterson said more money may not be the only answer. For example, he said, small towns may be able to pool their orders for emergency equipment, thus getting a better price than they currently get for buying small amounts separately.