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Natural Disasters A Bigger Threat Than Terrorism, Emergency Responders Say

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The destructive force of events like Superstorm Sandy is what keeps emergency responders up at night.
Bryan Russo
The destructive force of events like Superstorm Sandy is what keeps emergency responders up at night.

Twelve years ago, terrorism seemed to be the biggest safety threat to the D.C. region. Now many area emergency management officials think a bigger threat has emerged: natural disasters.

Kenneth Mallette is the director of Maryland's Emergency Management Agency. He says the weather that the D.C. region has seen in the past two years in many ways surpasses terrorism as a threat.

"The strength and severity of Superstorm Sandy and the 2012 derecho make it clear to Maryland and the National Capital Region that we face greater threats of property damage and loss of life from natural disasters than previously experienced," Mallette says.

Emergency officials often point to the "lessons of 9/11" — how they've changed their response to catastrophes through better training, procedures, and technology because of what first responders faced that day. But now, 9/11 is rarely the driving force even for that.

Arlington County fire chief James Schwartz, whose department lead the rescue efforts at the Pentagon 12 years ago, says natural disasters spark many of their new upgrades like "ambulance buses" that can transport 25 victims in need of care at a time.

"The ambulance buses specifically were a lesson learned from [Hurricane] Katrina," Schwartz says. "We did not take that away from the lesson of 9/11. We learned we needed more transport capabilities out of what happened in the Gulf Coast crisis."

Both men made their remarks at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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