SARASOTA COUNTY - Officials on the Suncoast are staying prepared for possible large emergency events -- including terrorism, saying it's something they hope to never use. But if they do, they have an action plan.
It is impossible to predict what hate and evil can bring to your doorstep. However, emergency officials, local hospitals, and law enforcement are well trained on what to do in the aftermath.
The Boston Marathon tragedy may have taken place 1,500 miles away, but emergency operation managers in places like Manatee and Sarasota counties know: you never know. "We can't imagine what they are going through, but we always prepare for the worst," says Ed McCrane, Sarasota County emergency management chief.
Since 9/11, local agencies have run dozens of drills to make sure everyone is on the same page. "What you can do is have the resources ready and relationships established between law enforcement, fire rescue, the hospitals, emergency management, all working together and knowing who provides what resources to support each other when something like this happens," says McCrane.
They’re training within their own counties and ready to open their doors to others. "It could become a regional center, could become a state-wide center. Anything we can do to support our neighbors is critically important," says Don Hermey, Manatee County emergency management chief.
And using Homeland Security grants, local hospitals have taken warning, too. "We are aware that we have a lot of outdoor events. In our emergency room we try to prepare with a mass casualty drill at least once per year," says Mickey Watson, chief of public safety at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Those drills include a contingency plan to turn parking spaces into hundreds of beds within an hour and a half. “We have the ability to put almost 200 beds in the first floor of the garage; button it up so we actually have air conditioned space, the ability for our doctors and nurses to treat."
The next wave would be if something criminal took place. Local agencies like the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office say they are a part of a 10-county resource division and a joint terrorism task force, which includes the FBI. "In a response to any type of terrorism attack anywhere in this 10-county area, there are several entities of our agency that would respond,” says Col. Steve Burns.
He says it's also reminder that no matter where we are, we all continue to look out for anything suspicious. "It may be nothing, but it may be something that saves someone's life."
And in fact just this morning the Sarasota County bomb squad was called to North Port for a suspicious bag at a bus stop. It turned out to be nothing.