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Red Cross Agencies Share Lessons from Terrorist Attacks


Representatives from Red Cross agencies in Spain and Britain joined American colleagues in New York at a recent symposium to share the lessons they have learned from dealing with terrorist attacks in urban environments. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from New York on how past experiences are helping preparations for future catastrophes.

New York City. September 11th, 2001.

The scenes of devastation reminded the international emergency response community that despite the best planning, urban catastrophe can happen anywhere… at any time.

It is a lesson that Jonathan Edmonson learned the hard way on July 7th, 2005. As a member of London's ambulance corps, he was one of the first on the scene of the terrorist attacks on London's public transportation system. "I happened to be the on-call emergency planning manager on that day. That's what my role was in the London ambulance service was -- emergency planning and preparedness, and that's what I'd been doing for about six years prior to this incident. So gut feeling was the fact that this was potentially a terrorist attack, and I told my work colleague that I think that we're possibly under attack, and then started responding to that very first incident site."

Edmonson is now the Emergency Operations Manager with the British Red Cross. He was hired in an effort to help change the way the Red Cross responds to emergencies like the July 7th attacks.

Edmonson attended the recent meeting in New York of Red Cross officials whose countries suffered terror attacks. The American Red Cross in Greater New York sponsored the event.

Chief Executive Officer Theresa Bischoff explained that while this is the first such gathering of Red Cross agencies from the U.S., Britain, and Spain, they have been sharing information for more than five years. "We had many people who sought information from us after 9/11. Now we have many cities who each have had their own experiences. So we saw this as an opportunity to not just have New Yorkers sharing their experience but have a number of cities come together and each learn from the other."

Spanish Red Cross President Carlos Paya takes the lessons learned at the symposium to heart.

The 2004 attacks on the transportation system in Madrid came more than two years after the 9/11 attacks on New York City… and few expected it.

Paya added, "The people never thought that it was going to happen to them. And this is a mistake. I think the lessons from 9/11 must be learned for everybody. And now I think that they are more conscious about that."

More conscious and better prepared, thanks to meetings like this one in New York. Meetings that help these agencies discuss issues they dealt with in each of their cities darkest hours. Like not having enough training to prepare for the attacks. Or the lack of communication between those responding to the crisis.

The chance to get these different Red Cross agencies together reveals that terrorism is not their only common bond.

"We certainly came into this symposium feeling that we had common issues around not having enough volunteers. Not having enough people prepared in our cities," Bischoff adds. "But what we were able to do was really begin to share our strategies and our tactics around accomplishing the goals that we have."

Bischoff plans to turn some of the ideas discussed here into working plans in the coming month.

One immediate goal that the Greater New York Red Cross hopes to achieve is an increase in the number of volunteers. Right now it has about 3,500. Its goal is 10,000.

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