Richmond Hill report outlines successes, areas for improvement

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INDIANAPOLIS- Indianapolis public safety officials unveiled an in-depth report on how firefighters, police and other emergency crews responded in the moments after the deadly explosion last November on the city’s south side.

Public Safety Director Troy Riggs released that “after-action” report Wednesday afternoon at the City-County Building, largely praising the efforts of emergency responders who were on the scene that night.

“I’ve seen a lot of disasters and this is the first time I saw public safety early and often saying, ‘We need to help people rebuild their lives,'” Riggs said. “I was very proud of our employees very proud of the other departments that responded.”

The explosion in the Richmond Hill neighborhood killed two people, and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.

“It was a difficult night, it was a chaotic night in many ways, but I saw first responders doing a tremendous job,” Riggs said.

Officials outlined the blast response in three critical areas: operations, site control and communications.

Manny Mendez, co-chair of the Richmond Hill Review Team, said the response was broken down hour-by-hour and in larger spans of time.

According to Mendez, the response was handled well overall and all agencies involved—from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to the Indianapolis Fire Department, Animal Care and Control, Code Enforcement and many others—collaborated well.

Hundreds of calls surged into emergency responders on the night of Nov. 10, and many callers were convinced the blast originated in their neighborhood. According to Mendez, dispatchers and first responders took about four minutes to deduce that Richmond Hill was “ground zero” for the explosion.

Mendez said emergency responders were quick to set up a command post and conduct door-to-door searches to look for survivors and make sure residents were okay. Even off-duty employees jumped into action to help, Mendez noted. He also commended the actions of neighbors to find ways to help.

Search and fire suppression went according to plan; site control was managed and most aspects of the response went by protocol. Emergency crews did what they could to provide food, water and medical care to those affected by the blast. Medical crews were prepared for up to 32 casualties; in the end, the blast injured eight, and two people, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, died.

Even though the response was mostly by the book, Mendez said there were areas for improvement.

“Pursuit of perfection is what we strive for,” he said. “We did well. It’s hard to find the nuggets that will make it a better process.”

Still, the review team identified several areas that could be improved. Time and time again, Mendez voiced the need for more centralization in terms of the response and the command post. Getting information to the media was difficult; there was only one public information officer on site during the blast. Some reporters got more access than Mendez wanted.

“The media was in multiple locations and some had access to victims,” Mendez noted. “That’s something we have to refuse as much as possible.”

Mendez called for more resources for large disasters and said the city needed to invite more external parties to help with the recovery effort in the first 12 to 24 hours after the explosion.

He said the command post could’ve been more clearly marked for responders and people needing help. The system for tracking patients and neighbors could’ve been improved. Officials also want to expand the response of chaplains and have a faster response for utility connections.

He also said the public safety department could do more to secure a funding source for immediate resources. The blast cost the Indianapolis Fire Department $82,000; the Division of Homeland Security spent more than $230,000.

“(This was a) very expensive and devastating thing,” Mendez said.

Riggs said the department would check the Richmond Hill study three or four times a year to examine progress on improvements.