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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

Toledo, county review disaster-response leadership

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With America's enemies half a world away calling for a holy war against the United States, local authorities plan to establish a task force to coordinate area-wide disaster response in the Toledo area.

Details of the proposed task force were still undetermined yesterday, including whether leadership would be held by a city of Toledo official or shared with the county.

“We are going to select one person to oversee and coordinate efforts,” said Paulette Huber, spokeswoman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. “There are going to be city and county response teams. We're also reaching out to the business community to get them involved and talk about measures they've taken or plan to take.”

The establishment of a task force fits in with new urgency shown by local officials following terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. In the last week, the United States has come under explicit threat of terrorist attacks from followers of Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden.

Ms. Huber and others are not saying the task force would have extensive operational authority.

The plan follows meetings between the mayor and city and county safety officials on Monday. On Tuesday, a broader meeting was held that included James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. The group had telephone contact with DaimlerChrysler Corp., General Motors Corp., and Toledo Edison. Ms. Huber said the task force also will reach out to area hospitals.

While planning has been under way for several days, there was disagreement yesterday over whether a single city official should be in charge or leadership should be shared by city and county officials.

At one point, the plan called for the group to be headed by Toledo fire Chief Mike Bell, with county Sheriff James Telb and one other person as two co-directors.

But Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commissioners, said it should be co-directed by Chief Bell and Sheriff Telb because a city-controlled committee might leave the other cities, townships, and villages feeling left out.

“We felt it would be best served if Lucas County had a presence, since Lucas County has a responsibility under Ohio law for emergency management,” Ms. Isenberg said.

“From what I can gather there will be a plan in place for all of the corporate folks and businesses. It will be educational, sharing of information,” Ms. Isenberg said. “It's an opportunity for all the government entities and quite a few of the businesses and corporations in town to have a good working plan in these difficult times.”

Mr. Hartung said the plan is a good idea.

“What you've got to look to is some kind of coordination. We're talking about things of a catastrophic nature in which there would be multiple jurisdictions. You want to make sure it's not a Keystone comedy,” Mr. Hartung said.

In reality, the county already has well-documented and rehearsed emergency plans, according to William Halsey, director of the county's emergency management agency.

“As an emergency response community we all work together very well and have been meeting for three to four years, even on the terrorism issue,” he said.

Mr. Halsey said he understands the new disaster response group to be an outreach to businesses and corporations which may have stockpiles and inventories of dangerous chemicals or which may be potential targets of a terrorist. He said the mayor might carry more weight in approaching the chief executive officer of a major corporation than the county director of emergency management.

The new response committee would not necessarily take charge in an emergency. Mr. Halsey said leadership would be decided depending on the nature of the disaster. If it's a terrorist attack, law enforcement would respond. If it is a chemical attack, the fire department would take the lead.



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