Council Member Elizabeth S. Crowley, Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, held an oversight hearing on the FDNY’s terrorism and disaster preparedness strategy on Monday. New York City is still a top terrorist target, with 13 known plots thwarted in the last decade due to counterterrorism measures. Coupled with the threat of natural disasters it is important that the FDNY has the manpower, equipment, and strategies necessary to deal with terror attacks and natural disasters.
“The Fire Department is often the City’s first responders in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster,” Council Member Crowley said. “While the Department has done an admirable job in developing a response strategy, we must ensure that the FDNY has the necessary staffing and equipment needed so that the FDNY can continue being the preeminent emergency response agency New York City expects and depends on it to be.”
Chief of the Fire Department Edward Kilduff testified that the FDNY enhanced its special operations command through a “tiered response” system that ensures optimal availability and distribution of resources. This allows the FDNY to train units in various response capabilities and strategically place them in fire companies throughout the City. Under questioning from the Committee, Chief Kilduff stated that closing 20 fire companies would impact public safety and the way the FDNY implements its tiered response system.
The FDNY has not hired a new recruitment class in nearly three years, and Chief Kilduff noted that staffing is down by nearly 400 firefighters. The newest recruitment class is not expected to be instated until next year. As the Department continues losing firefighters through attrition, the FDNY faces overtime costs exceeding $10 million per month and an increased physical toll on firefighters working extra overtime shifts, Chief Kilduff said.
Council Member Crowley also had concerns about the Fire Department on its communication infrastructure. The best counterterrorism efforts and emergency response depends on timely communications both within the Fire Department and between other City, State, and Federal agencies.
The FDNY has implemented a number of features for improved communications:
- Launched an automated recall program that can target off-duty members.
- Implemented a communications channel between on-scene firefighters and the EMS command.
- Implemented a second EMS citywide channel for Multiple Casualty Incidents.
- Established the Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness to coordinate our counterterrorism planning and strategy.
The FDNY has also established a new field communications system consisting of preprogrammed handie-talkie radios, portable command post radios, and cross-band repeaters to improve on-scene tactical and command communications and firefighter safety.
However, under questioning from the Committee, Chief Kilduff admitted there were still radio dead spots in the subway system—a top potential terrorist target—and the FDNY still has had trouble developing GPS systems that can quickly pinpoint injured or trapped firefighters in high-rise buildings.
“The looming threat of 20 fire company closures, coupled with the fact that the department has not hired a new class since 2008, threatens how well the FDNY can respond in emergencies,” Council Member Crowley said.
For more information on the FDNY Counterterrorism and Risk Management Strategy, read the Department’s full report at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/pdf/publications/FDNY_ct_strategy_2011_12.pdf