n October 11, 2005, the final platoons of personnel, vehicles, and equipment assigned to the Louisiana Emergency Assistance Deployment (Operation LEAD), returned to New Jersey.
Operating through the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management1
, Operation LEAD had effectively completed its primary mission to assist the New Orleans Police Department and Louisiana State Police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by way of staffing, equipment, and logistical and technical assets. These assets were deployed with a systematic approach grounded in complete self-sufficiency.
Over the course of five weeks, more than 600 state troopers and local and county police officers from 112 New Jersey law enforcement agencies, accompanied by fire service, emergency medical technicians, and a mobile relief team from the Salvation Army, carried out day and night patrol operations in the Second, Third, and Sixth Police Districts in New Orleans. The Second District alone encompassed approximately 9.7 square miles, with a pre-evacuation population of 100,000. All three districts were heavily damaged by floods and high winds.
Among their many activities, Opera-tion LEAD personnel searched 7,989 residences, rescued 67 stranded residents, and assisted 174 residents who were shel-tered in place. They assisted in the recovery of 117 bodies, rescued 274 animals, and carried out 2,050 humanitarian deliveries of food and water to those residents who chose to remain in their homes. There were more than 4,300 decontaminations of emergency workers and vehicles. Patrols handled more than 4,400 telephone calls to 911 operators.
STATEWIDE COLLABORATION AND COORDINATED RESPONSE
The core values of service to others and personal sacrifice are deeply woven into the fabric of the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical communities. They are a powerful inertia that brings about an overwhelming personal and organizational need to respond when others are in need. In times of crisis, however, spontaneous or unsolicited individual or agency responses can risk being at odds with their good intentions. Emergency response
should not add another layer to the chaos and disorder of a major disaster, particularly when locally affected police and fire departments are coming to grips with their own losses or personnel dislocations in the midst of organizing a rescue and recovery effort.
After the September 11, 2001, terror attack in New York City, responders laboring at Ground Zero quickly became exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated, and they desperately needed billeting, food, and water. After a long day of passing buckets of debris and searching for survivors and human remains in the rubble pile, there arose a need for on-site medical treatment and stress counseling.
Rescue workers also labored against a backdrop of short- and long-term liability issues involving possible physical or psychological injury or death while rendering assistance. Reducing liabilities and asserting protections were among the many issues that weighed heavily on the minds of New Jersey State Police emergency management commanders as they set out to develop an organized and orderly deployment to Louisiana. Existing New Jersey emergency operations plans governing local and state responses to hurricanes and floods proved helpful but did not anticipate the need for lengthy supply lines. If Operation LEAD was to stand on its own two feet, it must sustain revolving 14-day deployments that included equipment, personnel, food, sanitation, communications and other logistics along a supply route more than 1,300 miles long.
When the devastation from Hurricane Katrina was followed by the structural failure of several levees in New Orleans, the police, fire, and emergency medical agencies in New Jersey stood ready to respond with all urgency. Under the authority of state director, the office of the superintendent issued a statewide message that informed local and county law enforcement agencies that plans were already under way to coordinate a multiagency statewide response through the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM). All outside agency deployments were being coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).
EMAC is the nation's interstate mutual aid agreement during times of crisis. For Operation LEAD, EMAC provided the legal foundation for a statewide response from New Jersey that would cover federal reimbursement for services rendered and granted Louisiana law enforcement powers in support of a police mission on the ground.
To weave a New Jersey multiagency response into a single deployment to Louisiana, New Jersey Acting Governor Richard Codey signed an executive order appointing all responding police officers, fire service, and emergency medical personnel as state emergency workers under the command and control of the NJOEM. By this designation, all personnel assigned as emergency workers to Operation LEAD were considered to be agents of Louisiana under EMAC for tort liability and immunity purposes.
As discussions continued with Louisiana EMAC and FEMA officials, senior emergency management commanders at New Jersey State Police headquarters completed a concept of operations for a stand-alone deployment to Louisiana. This operational plan would tap into collaborative homeland security initiatives already established in New Jersey.
The unending fear of terrorism in the greater New York and New Jersey metropolitan area had driven most of the federal homeland security funding in New Jersey into increasing preparedness through training and tabletop exercises, disbursing or upgrading first responder and decontamination equipment, and achieving radio interoperability. From an all-hazards perspective, significant improvements were observed in responses to a whole gamut of technological and naturally occurring calamities, including fires, floods, collapsed buildings, and chemical spills or leaks.
Millions of dollars earmarked for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) in northeastern New Jersey had also provided training and equipment to more than 800 police officers in six counties, mobilizing them into county-based rapid deployment teams (RDT). In the event of a state emergency declaration by the Governor, the RDTs could transition into a larger force under the command and control of the state director of OEM.
New decontamination equipment and training had been provided to New Jersey police and fire departments, particularly to those located in the UASI region. This had brought about the creation of the Decontamination Task Force in four counties, staffed by police and fire personnel trained to decontaminate, or hot wash, emergency workers and equipment operating in a toxic environment.
The New Jersey State Police, in cooperation with the county prosecutors, had also brokered agreements to create other specialized coalitions of federal, state, city, and county bomb squads, SWAT teams, canine units, and crime scene investigation units to respond to mass casualty events. One or more of these task forces could be deployed on the basis of their technical expertise. Positioned to protect New Jersey against the threat of terrorism and an array of natural and technological disasters, these collaborations offered a highly qualified pool of responders for Operation LEAD.
The first EMAC request from Louisiana arrived on August 3, 2005, and brought about the deployment of four swift-water rescue teams involving 16 officers from the state's 210-strong Urban Search and Rescue Task Force One, as well as a seven-member water rescue unit Swift-water rescue team members evacuate an elderly resident from a flooded parish. Photograph courtesy New Jersey State Police from the Passaic County Sheriff's Department. They carried full camp provisions, tents, cots, and enough food and water to last for 72 hours. Arriving in New Orleans on September 5, they began water rescues at the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Support Team (FEMA/IST). In their two weeks of operation, swift-water rescue team members searched 2,300 residences and structures, rescued 29 residents, sheltered 54 in their residences, and marked three bodies for recovery.
Once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had shored up the levees and put several huge pumps into service, the receding city waters increased the capacity for ground operations. EMAC requests for out-of-state rescue, recovery, and general police services in support of those ground operations became a priority.
Captain Karl Kleeberg, supervisor of the New Jersey State Police Emergency Management Recovery Bureau, had been deployed along with Task Force One. His mission was to develop an operational plan in conjunction with the Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) that would map out a police mission for a larger ground force of New Jersey law enforcement responders. As a force multiplier to the NOPD, it was agreed that Operation LEAD would assist in search, recovery, and general police patrol operations in the Second Police District in New Orleans.
To reduce the burden upon fatigued local departments, Operation LEAD would have to be self-sufficient in its day-to-day operations, identifying its own means of housing, sanitation, and food provisions. Although rescue and recovery operations would take place in devastated areas without essential services, every effort was made to locate the command post and billeting facilities on high ground with power and utilities near the patrol area.
The search focused on the New Orleans suburbs of Kenner and Harahan. The command post was located at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Harahan. Billeting and dining facilities were located in a gymnasium at the Muss Bertolino Athletic Complex in Kenner. The decision to locate these facilities several miles apart was deliberate, creating two distinctly different environments for work and recreation.
STRUCTURE AND PURPOSE
Perhaps the greatest challenge of Operation LEAD was to simultaneously transport all of the personnel and equipment necessary to create a self-contained community of New Jersey emergency workers in greater New Orleans. Once this force arrived in Louisiana, command and control shifted to lines of authority dividing mission-oriented specialties and technical expertise.
The Operation LEAD task force was organized according to the Incident Command System principles, with sections established for command, operations, logistics, finance, and planning. Each section had its own section chief and staff. Command:
The command staff was composed of state police personnel, with a major or a captain from the emergency management section serving as an incident commander.2
A support staff included a deputy incident commander, an operations officer, a small investigative squad of detectives from major crimes, street gang, and crime scene units, and a rapid response team of approximately 10 troopers to support patrol operations with heavy weaponry, antisniper tactics, and force protection. A public information officer was assigned to handle all media inquiries and the visits of dignitaries and news reporters.
Operations Section: The operations section consisted of five teams of 20-25 officers and firefighters under the immediate command of local and county police captains and lieutenants to conduct search, rescue, and recovery operations. To the extent possible, these teams consolidated officers from the same or neighboring departments in New Jersey to foster the closest possible working relationship. In addition, each team contained fire service personnel responsible for decontamination after every patrol.
A hazardous materials team was designated to handle tactical encounters with dangerous chemicals or toxins. This team spent a great deal of time working in partnership with the 91st U.S. Army Civil Support Team, stabilizing operations at chemical and industrial facilities throughout Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish, home to approximately 500 chemical and industrial facilities, was the hardest hit after storm surge waters in the Industrial Canal collapsed the levee, releasing into the parish a 30-foot-high wall of water and a huge overturned barge that crushed everything in its path. Finance Section:
Due to the requirements of EMAC, the finance section kept strict accounting of all expenditures and captured all costs relating to the deployment. A daily report was provided to the incident commander memorializing all expenses to date and the administrative needs of the detail; current estimates reveal the total cost for the deployment at approximately 6-8 million dollars. Each member of Operation LEAD was required to fill out a daily activity patrol log and record all shift activities.
Planning Section: The planning section served as a repository and inventory for all documentation. The section included the New Jersey Critical Incident Stress Team (CIST), a highly trained group of counselors, to include a state police chaplain, who were available at all hours to provide crucial stress management counseling and nondenominational religious services. The CIST established its reputation at Ground Zero in New York City, deploying alongside the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue Team.
Logistics Section: The logistics section handled radio and telecommunications, medical services, base security, and other technical services. A medical doctor was also present throughout Operation LEAD. A tent in the billeting area was outfitted as a treatment facility with sufficient privacy to conduct medical examinations. Due to the toxicity of the patrol environment, even a small cut or an abrasion was given quick attention and treatment.
All of these sections provided daily progress reports to the incident commander. An incident action plan (IAP) was completed by the planning section chief with tactical input from the other section chiefs. The IAP delineated the mission, goals, and overall strategy for each operational period. It also provided to the incident commander with talking points for the twice-daily roll calls and issued threat assessments and crime intelligence. The IAP was also transmitted electronically to the NJSP command staff in New Jersey and to the Louisiana State Police Command Post in Baton Rouge.
THE LONG SUPPLY LINE
On September 7, the first in a series of three two-week deployments departed from state police Troop C headquarters in central New Jersey.3 The caravan comprised 74 marked patrol units, 10 hazmat and decontamination vehicles, two ambulances, a transportation maintenance vehicle, four light towers, and a command post bus. Seven car carriers transported the marked units, leaving a few to escort the convoy. Two low-boy trailers carried the command post bus, two ambulances, and the light towers. Another truck carried supplies donated by private companies in Bergen County.
Four New Jersey Transit buses transported 220 troopers, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel from 35 agencies. The first deployment included five decontamination units from three counties consisting of 36 police officers and firefighters with a specialty in hazardous materials. All Operation LEAD personnel were required to receive inoculations for tetanus, diphtheria, and hepatitis prior to their departure.4
BILLETING AND DINING
Due to the size of the first convoy, the trip took 38 hours. The convoy arrived at the Muss Bertolino Athletic Center in Kenner, a facility with much-needed air conditioning. In advance of their arrival, the New Jersey National Guard, under the command of Major General Glenn Rieth, had flown cots, tents, water, meal rations, and a small contingent of National Guard and state police personnel, to include Major John Hunt as the designated incident commander, into the New Orleans Naval Air Station. National Guard soldiers transported the supplies to Kenner and then worked nonstop to transform the athletic center gymnasium into a fully functioning living quarters for several hundred emergency responders. It was quickly dubbed Camp New Jersey.
The gymnasium was kept cool, in low light, and quiet. Dozens of emergency workers were sleeping or relaxing at all hours of the day or night before their patrol shift. To permit recreation and group conversation, outside tents were set up, one of which offered cable television featuring baseball games and movies. Through a wireless bridge negotiated with a local company, an Internet kiosk was set up along the interior perimeter of the billeting area so personnel could stay in touch with their departments and families through e-mail or instant messages. Hot and cold meal choices were offered three times a day in a high school cafeteria near the gymnasium. Snacks, power bars, water, and soft drinks were available 24 hours a day in the billeting area. COMMUNICATIONS AND RADIO INTEROPERABILITY
The first step in ensuring the safety of Operation LEAD personnel was establishing sound and secure communications. NJSP radio technicians and information technology specialists assessed the communications needs and challenges faced by agencies already responding to the Katrina disaster. The existing state, parish, and local police agencies operated on 800-megahertz systems that were in various stages of operation due to power failures and severe wind damage. The International Tactical (ITAC) interoperability frequencies were being used mostly for point-to-point communications but were hampered by constant chatter.
Technicians believed that NJSP radios could provide some interoperability through these channels. A search began for FCC licenses that would identify what conventional frequencies already programmed into the NJSP radios could be used in the New Orleans area without interference. Technicians requested and received a temporary FCC license to operate on the 800-megahertz repeater frequencies. This would inform responding agencies that the fr equency was already in use and would avoid interference with agencies that attempted to use the same or adjacent frequencies. The repeater and talk-around frequencies used by the New Jersey contingency were also coordinated and approved through the FEMA ad hoc frequency coordinator.
A multidisciplinary group of technicians arriving in the first wave of the LEAD Task Force quickly went to work to provide radio, telephone, and information technology support to the command post, billeting, and operational areas. Within the first 24 hours of their arrival, a cache of portable, mobile, and desktop radios, a portable 800-megahertz repeater, and a Raytheon/JPS ACU-1000 Interoperability Communications System had been installed. Additionally, a telephone system, wireless and satellite phones, a credentialing machine, a dozen laptop computers with wireless access, and a local area network (LAN) were set up.
Generators and uninterruptible power systems (UPS) were available to provide primary and back up power and an 800-mega-hertz repeater was installed on the 210-foot Bell South building in downtown New Orleans. This service delivered full local technical support to the operation and set the stage for additional connectivity.5
An initial exchange of radios was conducted with the Louisiana State Police and the police departments in New Orleans, Kenner, Harahan, and Jefferson Parish. Temporary connectivity and monitoring was facilitated through radio reprogramming in the Raytheon Interoperability System. All of this interagency coordination, carried out under very challenging conditions, permitted the smooth transfer of vital communications and information through dispatch and enhanced joint operations between Operation LEAD, the U.S. Army, the National Guard, the FBI, the NOPD, and the LSP.
Building upon Internet connectivity, an encrypted VPN tunnel was established between the Harahan command post and NJSP division headquarters in New Jersey. This secured the data communications and allowed the Operation LEAD incident commander to exchange communications, documents, and large media transfers of photographs with the NJSP command staff.
The primary mission of Operation LEAD was dedicated to search and rescue. More than 100,000 heavily damaged and flooded residences and commercial buildings in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes needed to be searched for survivors or to recover the remains of those who had perished. It was a grueling daytime operation that tested the strength and character of each and every member of Operation LEAD. For much of the five-week deployment, temperatures fluctuated between 90 and 100 degrees, with high humidity and saturated ground conditions. As highly toxic groundwater evaporated, it left a sickening gray pallor over the entire landscape, producing the perfect medium for the growth of bacteria and mold.
When the levees collapsed, rapidly churning currents of water filled the inside of houses in a matter of minutes, upending furniture and appliances, and battering residents who could not escape. As the water drained away, everything was deposited in massive piles of debris. Dead bodies filled small spaces between refrigerators and furniture items and were not easily recognizable. Looking up, rescuers began to recognize large, circular yellowish stains on the ceiling as telltale evidence of a decomposing body on an upstairs floor.
Telephone calls from concerned relatives often led a team back to a house already searched and a body was recovered. In one case, Operation LEAD personnel searched a residence in the 2 District several times as the waters drained and debris was removed, ultimately locating three bodies.
Rescuers were not authorized to remove bodies. They marked their exact location with a handheld global positioning instrument and transmitted the coordinates to the Louisiana State Police command post in Baton Rouge. Federal disaster mortuary response teams (DMORT) removed the bodies.
Operation LEAD teams followed a simple process created by FEMA to denote residences that had already been searched. A team member identified as a doorman spray-painted a large X in bright orange on an outside wall near the front door, adding important pieces of information to brief other teams about the search. Above the X the doorman wrote the date and time of the search. To the left of the X he identified the search team by its initials. For instance, NJLETF stood for the New Jersey Law Enforcement Task Force. To the right of the X the doorman identified any hazards to entry, such as dogs, cats, or snakes. Below the X he records the number of dead bodies found.
During searches, mold and other household contaminants were a constant peril to search personnel. Floors were slippery from growths of mold that spread up the walls and across the ceiling. Inhalation of aerobic mold spores presented a serious hazard to health. To avoid contamination, essential equipment included face masks and Tyvek suits and boots, all of which were discarded after each search. Piles of suits left outside a property reminded other teams and agencies that the residence had been searched.
Patrol officers searching residences were encouraged to wash their hands dozens of times a day with an alcohol-based hand rub to ward off the possibility of skin infection and disease transmission. Boots and vehicle tires and quarter panels were soaked in detergent and rigorously scrubbed so that mold, bacteria and pollutants did not track back into the command post or billeting area.
Oppressive heat quickly increased body temperatures. Patrol supervisors paid close attention to signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Heavy sweating was normal. Those who were not sweating were in immediate need of hydration and were taken off the detail.
Patrols at night were conducted in areas of complete darkness, and under conditions far too hazardous to conduct residential searches. Night missions were confined to general police patrol to prevent looting and other criminal activity. On occasion, night patrols were supported by members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard who flew helicopters missions with searchlights and forward looking infrared radar (FLIR) in support of the patrols.
Once the parish roadways were cleared of debris and low hanging wires, the command post bus pushed forward with all patrol operations. The bus was equipped with multiple radios, computers, a wireless phone system, a satellite telephone, and had backup generator capacity to operate in a barren communications environment. FORCE PROTECTION AND CRIMINAL INTELLIGENCE
One of the critical issues confronting the conduct of Operation LEAD was the protection of its personnel. Soon after the hurricane had passed, there were reports of looting and weapons thefts by street gangs. Houses were burglarized and burned. Loose bands of armed individuals were openly engaging police and firefighters in head-on skirmishes and sniping at helicopters in the midst of their rescue efforts.
These threats underscored the need for force protection during every rescue and recovery operation. Earlier in the deployment, swift-water rescue teams had added a two-person vessel to every waterborne patrol and armed them with shotguns and other tactical weapons. This patrol vessel cruised the area around the rescue operation, scanning the landscape for looters and snipers.
When the city had drained enough to conduct ground operations, heavily armed officers assigned to the rapid deployment team secured blocks and neighborhoods where search operations were under way. Operation LEAD also provided force protection to local ambulance and other emergency medical responders, as well as to members of the New Orleans and New York City fire departments who continually battled arson fires.
Each of the three Operation LEAD deployments included detectives from the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Bureau. Their job was to work with the New Orleans Police Department, the Louisiana State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to develop intelligence on the presence of street gangs and other organized criminal groups that might pose a threat to the patrol operations. These detectives were a critical part of the morning and evening intelligence briefings to squad leaders.
A final but critical element of force protection is force health protection. Health and safety is an issue whose importance amounts to an ethical imperative, to say nothing of attendant legal obligations. There is a responsibility to communicate risk to those we place in harm's way, voluntarily or otherwise, and to ensure that their health is monitored before, during, and after deployment to any affected area.
Because a police, fire, or EMS commander will likely have health resources available to them (in their jurisdiction, if not in their department), they need not possess the expertise themselves. They simply need solid advisors to help them evaluate three fundamental questions: Are my personnel being thoroughly screened prior to deployment? What is being done to protect them during deployment (by means, for instance, of decontamination, personal protection equipment, and contaminant sampling)? And are they being thoroughly screened at the conclusion of and beyond the deployment? Bottom line: out in front is where an organization wants to be on health issues.
Tens of thousands of house pets, mostly cats and dogs, were abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In their haste to evacuate the path of the hurricane, many homeowners had leashed them to furniture and heavy appliances in the mistaken belief that the owners would return after the hurricane passed. Some residents openly defied the mandatory evacuation order and refused to leave their pets, sometimes causing rescue personnel and police to commit desperate acts that resulted in the forced separation or destruction of pets to effect lifesaving rescues.
There was little food to forage that the floodwaters and oppressive heat had not destroyed. Loose pets were poisoned by standing pools of putrid water as the city drained. Those trapped in houses were in ragged condition and wasting away. Many drowned when they could not escape the rising water, while others managed to climb onto cars and rooftops, where they remained stranded for days.
Operation LEAD personnel encountered loose house pets everywhere during their patrols. Some followed the uniform foot patrols at a distance but shied away from an extended hand or a calm voice. Little else could be done for the animals roaming the streets of the deserted parishes other than to lay open a bag of dog food alongside containers filled with bottled water.
Pets stranded in houses were not removed. The patrols noted their presence by marking the entrance to the houses. News about abandoned pets were passed along to the Louisiana State Police command post in Baton Rouge, with a request for the ASPCA or other animal rescue agencies to remove the pets. For the most part, animals were rescued promptly. More than 250 pets were saved from slow death by Operation LEAD officers.■