By Justin Reedy
Being home to a major military base and the world's busiest airport makes Clayton County a high-profile target for possible terrorist attacks, the area's congressional representative said Monday.
Because of the possibility of such attacks here, U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, said, it's important to make sure the county's "first responders," or fire, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, are properly trained and equipped.
On Monday night, Scott convened a forum of local and state first responders to get a briefing from the emergency personnel on their readiness in the event of an attack, and to provide them with information about available federal funds.
"We're very concerned about homeland security, especially with Hartsfield (Atlanta International) Airport and Fort Gillem here," said Scott as he addressed the attendees. "It's important that we hear the concerns of you, who are our first responders, and we also want to inform you of our efforts. We want to make sure first responders are getting the proper support from all levels of the federal government."
Scott and his staff also distributed a survey to the assembled crowd, which included representatives from the Clayton County Police, Fire, and Sheriff's departments, the Morrow Police and Fire departments, the Jonesboro Fire Department and city government, the Clayton County Board of Health, the American Red Cross and other organizations and agencies. The survey asks officials questions about training, personnel and budget concerns, as well as how much of each would be needed to fully implement a homeland security plan for the county.
"That survey is very, very important," Scott said. "That's my evidence when I go back to Congress to make my case for more funding."
Scott also had federal officials on hand as panelists to discuss homeland security programs and answer questions from local and state officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office of Domestic Preparedness and the Army National Guard's 4th Civil Support Team were all represented on the panel.
Much of the discussion centered on what grants are available to local departments from the federal government, as well as how to obtain such grants.
But Maj. Kevin McCann, the deputy commander of the 4th Civil Support Team, addressed how his unit can both help with training and respond to incidents with suspected biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The 4th CST responded to a recent incident at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro where a suspected chemical weapon n which later turned out to be a hoax n was discovered, isolated and dealt with.
"We utilize an in-sync command structure when we respond to an incident," McCann said. "We don't come to your scene and take over."
Local officials also took advantage of the chance to complain about some federal programs and policies and praise others, as well as lobby for funding for programs that, while not local, would affect local agencies. Chief David Wall of the Morrow Fire Department pointed out that the National Fire Academy in Virginia could be suffering from a budget cut that could be felt across the country.
"There's been a cut there that's going to affect firefighter training," Wall said. "We're very concerned about that."
Scott promised to look into that proposed budget cut, as well as other areas of concern brought up by local officials.
"There's no more important matter to my congressional office than making sure first responders are getting the funding they need for homeland security," Scott said.