Owens trains for crises

Michele Johnson, chair
of the Owens School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Michael Cornell, director of the
Center for Emergency Preparedness. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)

NORTHWOOD — The difference between an accidental chemical spill and an aggressive biological attack is
merely intent.
That, at least, is how Michael Cornell sees the threats to public safety.
How the threat is handled is the same — and Owens Community College’s Center for Emergency Preparedness
(CEP) is working to make sure those in the field of emergency management and response are properly
Cornell, director at the center, said the threat of a terrorist attack is minor compared to natural
disasters such as flood, tornados and earthquakes.
But in the wake of the 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the demand for first responder
training as well as emergency planning soared. Owens’ CEP was in the works, but the $20 million training
center for use in emergency and disaster response exercises wasn’t completed until 2007.
Cornell, who was working as a public health planner in Idaho at the time of the attacks, said as a
planner, “We always think about what will happen when the other shoe falls.”
The college’s School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is working to train future emergency
planners to handle any crisis, whether natural or man-made.
Specifically, the college has initiated an Emergency Management Planning course; it had two graduates in
May, and 22 students enrolled this semester.
“Most of them have high aspirations of becoming an (emergency management agency) director or planner,”
Cornell stated.
He added he’s seen a “fair amount” of former military personnel enter the field, with police and fire
chiefs as well as Red Cross directors taking the training.
The program’s focus is not just on what to do in the event of a terrorist attack, but on how to respond
to catastrophic events such as tornados and floods.
In the past, police and fire chiefs often were called upon to organize emergency planning, explained
Michele Johnson, who chairs the School of Public Safety.
“It now has a name and is a growing profession.”
Cornell agreed, adding that 10 years ago no one offered the training but now programs are popping up
across the nation.
“Nationwide, that is a change that has come out of the Sept. 11 attacks,” he said.
Emergency managers’ function “is to prioritize the unique events in each area.” Cornell continued. Their
work begins long before the disaster: Pre-planning includes identifying possible hazards and targets
such as earthquake fault lines and chemical plants.
“Anything that has potential for a large-scale effect, EMA is involved,” he explained. “They qualify
those threats and choose which one to prepare for,” then develop and coordinate how to respond and
mitigate the threat.
New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, Cornell said, is an example of how emergency planning didn’t work.

Locally, the response and coordination of agencies after the June 2010 tornado tore through Lake Township
gives a glimpse of the emergency management planner’s responsibilities.
“Right after the (9/11) attacks, there was a tremendous demand for this training,” said Cornell,
comparing that demand to a bell curve. But now, a decade later, interest is growing in specific
At Owens, areas of study include an explosives awareness course; field chemical-casualty care class; and
hazardous material technicians program, which includes a weapons of mass destruction component that
wasn’t a consideration pre-9/11.
“The programs that are in demand are growing,” he stated.
In fact, in October, the center will offer a three-day radiological and nuclear response course to first
While the college helps plan for future dangers, personnel also looked back with a tribute to those
victims and heroes who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 tragedies. The School of Public Safety and
Emergency Preparedness and the CEP hosted a Memorial Flag Service early Sunday. An estimated 200 people
attended for the ceremonial flag raising.
Cornell predicted programs such as what Owens offers may see an increase in specific training with a
rebirth of Al-Qaeda and the growing concern over instability in Pakistan.
“Time and trends will tell,” he stated.