New Challenges for Urban Emergency Management

Emergency management in urban centres must now plan for many scenarios outside of traditional events. Recently, the city of Pittsburgh announced that it is overhauling its procedures to deal with political and sports related incidents. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city is developing the new strategies in response to the disruption around the April 13 Donald Trump rallies, which saw clashes between supporters, protesters and first responders caught in between at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Police Officer Bob Swartzwelder was quoted by the Post-Gazette as saying that due to a command decision, his officers were not allowed to wear protective gear. “Some high-level person made a command decision that it wasn’t going to be worn,” he told the paper. “Uniforms, your equipment, your formations, those are all command decisions. And my officers are concerned about it.”

The new approach will involve “collaboration efforts” of the city’s bureaus of Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services and will follow the National Incident Management System and National Response Framework, in keeping with Homeland Security Presidential Policy directives, according to city public safety director Wendell Hissrich.

The new public safety plan was put into effect at a Pittsburgh Penguins game on June 9 for the Stanley Cup Finals.

The internal reviews, which began after the Trump rally that led to the injury of police officers, were compiled from a committee made up of about 15 people from the police, fire and emergency medical services departments, and a consultant. They used witness statements, emails and about four hours of radio communication, Hissrich told the Post-Gazette. These reports will be standard and made public, said police chief Cameron McLay.

“The decision was made that the emergency management office will now oversee all planning from start to finish, to include an after-action. This will not only include special events pre-planned but any type of natural or man-made disaster, i.e., a hazardous material incident, railroad derailment, active shooter situation,” Hissrich said.

With a unified approach, which Hissrich said hadn’t occurred in the past, the office’s daily operations will be overseen by a police commander, an assistant fire chief and a member of the EMS command staff.