Emergency managers discuss disaster preparedness

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Emergency managers and first responders from throughout Mississippi are discussing disaster preparedness in Biloxi this week.

It just so happens the Mississippi Preparedness Summit was scheduled for this week at the Coast Coliseum Convention Center. And with the disaster in Boston, you can be certain that terrorism is suddenly a key topic.

As emergency managers networked and checked out the latest equipment and technology, there was no doubt the Boston disaster was on the minds of many.

"I think the message is that as first responders, we have to be prepared to respond to anything. Not just hurricanes and tornados and floods. But even acts of terrorism. Because the risk  and threat is still there," said MEMA Director Robert Latham, during a news conference to open the event.

Director Latham says citizens are the most important part of any preparedness partnership. Ordinary people can be on the lookout for suspicious activity or packages.

"And I suspect that before all is said and done, something that someone saw, in or around where the bombs were detonated, will be the key that enables law enforcement officers to find the culprit and bring them to justice," he said.

And while it may be difficult to anticipate acts of terrorism, there's a good bit of uncertainty in much of disaster preparation.

"Pretty much everything we do is unpredictable to a degree. So, we prepare for it just like we do anything else. We take an all hazards approach, from natural disasters, right on up to terrorism. Unfortunately, that's the way we have to think these days, with all the things going on in the world," said Civil Defense EMA Director James Smith.

The University of Mississippi medical center leads our state's network of emergency response, which would be activated in a mass casualty event.

"Our field hospitals and a lot of the capability that has been developed since Katrina, because of terrorism funding in large part, has made Mississippi much better prepared," said Jim Craig, with the Mississippi State Department of Health.

"Eventually, we'll know how many lives were saved by the courage of just the average citizen on the scene that stopped to help somebody, rather than run away. That's why we have to make sure our citizens are a part of this," said Director Latham.

Robert Latham says educating citizens to be prepared is critical. That's why he'd like to see disaster preparedness added to the education curriculum in Mississippi.  He's currently working on a pilot project with the department of education.

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