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Fullbright Scholar Praises Dallas' Emergency Operations

By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Dallas, TX – The city of Dallas coordinated Ike and Gustav efforts from its relatively new, state of the art emergency facility in the bowels of city hall. Officials like their new nerve center and how it works. So does a visiting Australian scholar, who hopes to take some emergency management ideas back to his homeland. KERA's Bill Zeeble reports.

Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter:
A couple levels below city hall's first floor lies the secure Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates city-wide efforts in tough times. It might have come in handy three years ago, when evacuees escaping from Hurricane Katrina, and then Rita, fled to Dallas. But it didn't exist then.

Kenny Shaw, EOC Director: This was a totally different space down here till a year and a half ago, when we got federal grants to put in all new wiring and redo everything. We set up computers and phones at each station and radios to talk to any city department along the wall here.

Kenny Shaw manages Dallas' Emergency Operation Center.

Shaw: We've got police and fire dispatch points here to talk to cars in the field. We got visuals to track news or get on the internet if we need to. We have a lot more capacity to manage emergencies than we had a year and half ago.

It looks impressive. Like a movie set war room, it has four giant, flat-panel screens spread across the wall with the latest breaking news coming in from different TV channels. But more impressive to Chris Aynsworth is how the people here work as a team.

Chris Aynsworth, Australian Fullbright scholar: They're prepared to put everything aside and work toward a common goal.

Aynsworth is from Adelaide, South Australia, visiting on a Fullbright Scholarship. He hopes to return home with ideas to improve emergency management and response, while also building relationships between the two countries.

Aynsworth: When you look at the day-to-day life of any business, there are always competitors out there. In a city department, there are always competitors for funding. There's only so much city funding to go around. Those sorts of issues are managerial. That is healthy within an organization. It keeps them lean, on that knife-edge of not throwing money away frivolously. To see that harmony come together when there's an incident is exceptional.

Aynsworth has encountered his share of incidents since he got here in July. He's seen and helped coordinate departments handling the arrival of evacuees from two hurricanes in two weeks. Over the weekend, emergency workers also feared tropical-storm winds and severe flooding all over town. Saturday's preparations impressed Aynsworth.

Aynsworth: There's a lot of pre-positioning of equipment and barricades that are ready for emergency responders to take and place them when needed, rather than wait for someone to come out and drop a barrier off and put it up. Hopefully that'll stop people entering those areas and causing another emergency response.

Advanced preparation is one of the lessons Aynsworth plans to take home to South Australia.

Aynsworth: There's good emergency response plans. The level of preparation, expertise, competency with city officials, city managers and employees, is among the best I've in seen in the world.

Still, this Fullbright scholar also has ideas to improve the Dallas system. He would like to see changes between the county and cities.

Aynsworth: The city's responsible for the city. The county's responsible for the county. But within the county are several cities. When you bring in 10,000 to 15, 000 people, it can sometimes be difficult in coordinating that. It's the coordination side, it's not the control. It's just the way the structure is. It's a mindset in changing and improving how we can streamline.

Aynsworth will take all his observations and lessons learned home to Adelaide, Australia, when his Fullbright stay ends at the end of the month. Bill Zeeble KERA news.