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March 12, 2014

NYC Explosion/Collapse - Terrorism, Gas Leak, or Souvenir Ordnance?

"Terrorism, Gas Leak, or Souvenir Ordnance?" was the first question asked when an explosion destroyed an apartment building in Harlem, New York City, 1992.

In 1992 a natural gas leak originating in an eleventh floor apartment caused an explosion that killed three and injured 34. Nineteen police officers and six firefighters were among the injured.

More than twenty years later, as the Vulcan Blizzard dominates media coverage, emergency management and traditional responders are asking that same question as five-alarms respond to a deadly explosion and building collapse in East Harlem.

The 1992 Harlem event was publicized in the U.S Fire Administration Technical Report Series (see Fire, Police, and EMS Coordination at Apartment Building Explosion). In an era before September 11 and before the National Incident Management System, the traditional responders of the City of New York are noted by this report to have effected a remarkable response to the situation.

According to the USFA report:
"The efforts of the three lead response agencies, fire, police, and emergency medical services (EMS), were coordinated within the structure of an Incident Command System (ICS). Integrated and coop- erative command, linked with the implementation of a Collapse Rescue Plan; prudent triage and effective use of available resources for medical treatment; and rapid perimeter control to prevent fur- ther injuries demonstrated that seemingly overwhelming emergencies can be managed by applying good standard operating procedures. The lessons learned/reinforced by each agency at this incident can serve as a model to assist other emergency responders in planning for similar situations."
 I encourage everyone to review this report from 1992 with special attention to the Lessons Learned and Reinforced. The recommendations made and findings of this report are as important today as they were back in 1992. Solid emergency management and response does not mean re-inventing tactics and policy. Rather, better to remember your experiences and build on them. 

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