We all remember the heartbreak and horror of the Boston Marathon Bombing that happened on April 15 of this year. The city of Boston received high marks for their preparedness and response to the crime that caused massive carnage and destruction. When it happened, I wondered if my city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County would be able to handle a similar crisis. Last night, I got my answer, and the answer is—Absolutely! Captain Mike Smith, Commander of ALERT (Advanced Local Emergency Response Team) explained the program to the Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Academy. After a bomb threat in 1995 at the county courthouse, ALERT was created. It is a response team made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, firefighters, paramedics, HAZ-MAT personnel, doctors, and nurses. They train for incidence that involve mass casualties. The 25-member team from the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for evidence collection, crime scene security, decontamination and medical evacuation of victims.
In partnership with Novant Health, the Sheriff’s Office and hospitals work closely together in training and coordination. Members of ALERT received training at Fort McClellan, Alabama in chemical decontamination. Captain Smith told us that a body that has been exposed to a chemical agent must be decontaminated before it is taken away, the duty of the team. Members of ALERT train monthly and periodically with other agencies in a mock scenario setting.
One of the highlights of the evening was seeing the Mobile Unit for ALERT. The on-site ALERT operations unit on wheels is divided into three sections. In the front is the command center with a TV, computer, and everything essential for communications. In the center section is a staging area with two computer workstations and a fingerprint scanner. In the rear is a “holding cell” for anyone taken into custody.
On September 11, 2001, I waited two agonizing hours to learn if my daughter who worked at the World Trade Center was okay. Fortunately, she was finally able to call out to tell me that she was safe at home. Like many others, I was personally affected by the event, and it makes me realize that in today’s world catastrophes will continue to shatter lives. But I feel blessed in my community to have a well-trained, highly professional organization like ALERT to go into immediate action and offer assistance in the moment of crisis.