By Special Guest Writer
Natalia Duran, CPE State Coordinator, Florida Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce
On August 23, 1992, our center went into ALPHA-BRAVO mode, preparing for Hurricane Andrew. It was Sunday, and the day was sunny and beautiful. Our Fire Dispatchers arrived and settled in for the long haul on the Bravo shift (1830-0630), expecting the hurricane to make landfall sometime during the night.
At 0420 on Monday, August 24, it arrived. Our center had no windows, but we knew it arrived because the room went from a low hum to a crescendo as all the phones and radio chatter reached their highest note. Between the hours of 0420 to 0600, we received more than 800 calls, which were hand-written on legal pads because we could not dispatch our field units until “all clear” was given to respond.
When 0630 arrived and the ALPHA shift had not arrived to relieve our Dispatchers, we knew it must be bad. Once outside the center, we saw the devastation in our parking lot and realized that our dayshift crew would not be there. That day, eleven dispatchers could not report to work.
Being an active member of our Florida Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (FL-APCO) chapter since the 1980’s, I knew I needed help and reached out to the incoming president, Nancy Dzoba from Fort Lauderdale, and asked for dispatchers. That afternoon dispatchers with backpacks showed up in our lobby ready to work. Our “visitors” worked with us for more than a month; and thus, the deployment of dispatchers to assist other communications centers was born.
The following year, after interviewing our dispatchers and those who came to assist, along with learning how we organized the operation, FL-APCO produced a working plan called “Florida Mutual Aid Plan” and introduced it to the State Emergency Center in Tallahassee. It was accepted by our Fire & Rescue Emergency Support Function on April 9, 1993, and we were added to their list of resources to deploy.
Our history of Communications Mutual Aid in Florida:
1992 - Hurricane Andrew (8/24)
1993 - FL Mutual Aid Plan is introduced to the State and adopted by ESF (4/9)
1995 - Our first deployment: Palm Bay EMS for Hurricane Opal (10/4)
1997 - Wildfires of ‘97
2004 - The storms of ‘04 (Aug-Sept.) Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne (FL APCO also deployed a team to deliver food, clothing, and household items to communications center staff)
2005 - Hurricane Wilma-CCSO deployed to Belle Glade
2005 - Hurricane Katrina (landfall near the borders of Broward & MD & Panhandle and Louisiana). No personnel deployments, however, FL-APCO deployed a team to deliver food, clothing, and household items to communications center staff.
2007 - National Joint TERT Initiative (APCO & NENA) changed our name to FL-TERT
2017 - Monroe County SO & Collier County SO for Hurricane Irma (9/10) (FL APCO also deployed a team to delivery food, clothing, and household items to MCSO communications staff)
2018 - Panhandle for Hurricane Michael (10/10) (FL APCO also deployed a team to deliver food, clothing, and household items to communications center staff)
2020 - Baldwin, Alabama, for Hurricane Sally (9/16)
2021 - LaFourche SO, Louisiana, for (9/2-14)
In 2007, after Hurricane Katrina, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) initiated a drive to bring this program to the national level. Both APCO and NENA joined efforts, and 26 states were invited to begin working on a TERT Program. In Washington, FEMA Director Dave Paulison supported our work, and in 2009, we began to provide presentations and training across the country. Check out the NJTI website: https://www.njti-tert.org
The TERT program is now active in more than 30 states. Some states have combined their Incident Dispatch Teams with the FEMA TERT Certifications. These teams have proven to be very successful as they are utilized from on-scene demobilization, to providing mutual aid to a center for a line-of-duty death, to assisting a sister center during a disaster or critical event.
FL-TERT members comply with obtaining IS144A (the Basic course, recently revised) and for those wishing to lead a team, the IS1200. We encourage our members to be proficient in interpersonal skills, stress management skills, and supervisory skills. FL-TERT will soon be adding peer support certification to those members that wish to be recognized in that skillset.
In 2017, FL-TERT deployed to assist two centers during Hurricane Irma. It was quickly noted that in addition to IS144A training, in-service, in-person training was needed. By the end of the Hurricane Irma deployment, we began to provide an advanced live class through the state of Florida. Our “Preparing for Emergency Communication Center Deployments” class provides a review of our FEMA certifications, and the class participants then practice active simulations of deployments, depicting the lessons learned and how we can improve.
I am very proud of the work our FL-TERT members have demonstrated in each of our deployments. We have one of the most professional, elite group of dispatchers in law enforcement/fire services/EMS who represent our FL-TERT Program, their agencies, and our profession. Today we have over 500 FL-TERT members, and our State Regional Coordinators will be gearing up for Hurricane Season 2022, which begins on June 1. Our Regional Coordinators are a group of dedicated professionals that ensure their regions are familiar with our FL-TERT program and ensure our FL-TERT members are ready for the season and the possible deployments.
About the Author:
Natalia Duran, CPE, began her career with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department as a Fire Rescue Dispatcher in 1976. She quickly moved up in rank to Supervisor in 1980. In 1986, she was promoted to Fire Communications Officer, managing the Operations, Training and the EMD Quality Assurance for Miami-Dade Police Department Communications Center. She retired in 2012, after 36 years of service. Since 2012, as an adjunct instructor for the APCO Institute, Natalia has provided training to 9-1-1 Emergency Communication Specialist across the country and as far as Baja California, Mexico’s 9-1-1 centers. As the State Coordinator for the FL-APCO Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce Team (FL-TERT), she works with police & fire agencies in Florida in the deployments of Emergency Communication Specialists who are trained to deploy to assist a 9-1-1 centers during hurricanes, such as Hurricane Irma 2017, Hurricane Michael 2018, Hurricane Sally 2020, and Hurricane Ida 2021. A CISM/Peer Support Team Lead for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, she continues to work in supporting our emergency responders. A humbling experience, she worked at the SURFSIDE Collapse in 2021 site providing peer support to emergency responders. A graduate of the Certified Public-Safety Executive Program (2017) through APCO International, Natalia has proven to be a leader in our 9-1-1 industry and continues to make a difference. A proud mother of two Marine Vets and grandmother of six, she enjoys traveling, training, and meeting many of her brothers and sisters in public-safety.