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Richmond Hill residents react to after-action report

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The City of Indianapolis released its “after-action” report about the Richmond Hill explosion Wednesday afternoon at the City-County Building. Officials largely praised the efforts of emergency responders who were on the scene that November night.

“We did well,” said Manny Mendez, Office of Audit & Performance Director and co-chair of the Richmond Hill Efficiency Team. “It’s hard to find those little nuggets that will make it that much more of a better process.”

It is something Liz Kelley saw first-hand. Her family is moving back into their home after nearly 10 months.

“We thought it would be too hard to come back to that house, but we wanted to come back,” said Kelley. “I still get choked up when I think about it. It still seems really recent to us.”

The family was sleeping that night when they woke up to what felt like an earthquake. Their neighbor’s home was blown to shreds.

Liz immediately went into shock.

“Time kind of stood still for me there,” said Kelley. “I do remember very quickly seeing blue and red lights flashing and that was very overwhelming.”

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. 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.

“I remember seeing neighbors running toward the explosion, running towards people’s homes and knocking on doors, telling people to get out,” said Kelley.

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.

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.

“I wish I knew who the police officer was who knocked on our door,” said Kelley. “My son was standing in the front yard crying and he said, ‘Son, you need to get out of here. Where’s your mom and dad?’ He followed my son into my garage. I’ve love to give him a hug.”

Kelley said the support from first responders helped her family get through it. She also found healing in watching her house get demolished.

Now, Kelley looks forward to something that seems so simple.

“Being home. Home.”

Public safety officials 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 and 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.