Al Fuentes is a celebrity in both New York and Tennessee. The fire chief is remembered as the last person to be pulled out alive from the rubble created September 11, 2001, after the second tower collapsed at the World Trade Center. Fuentes had arrived from a fireboat after the two airplanes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the towers. As a building structure fell on him, Fuentes suffered broken bones and stayed in a coma for three weeks.
Fuentes became known in Tennessee as a result of his contributions to an ORNL-led team that examined the ability of Memphis to respond to a terrorist attack. The Regional Technology Integration team, which was launched in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to determine how technology can better protect cities against terrorist attacks, also recommended that Memphis adopt technologies and make organizational changes to improve the city's security readiness.
Fuentes was quick to notice that Memphis, which is the fourth largest inland port in the United States, lacked a maritime firefighting capability. If a boat caught fire on the Mississippi River, it would burn to the water. Fuentes knew of a surplus rescue firefighting boat in New York City, so he arranged to have the vessel transferred free to Memphis.
The ORNL-led Regional Technology Integration team was the first of four DHS teams to complete the assignment. Memphis is already adopting the team's recommendations in a 2005 report, according to Dave Lannom, the RTI team leader, senior program manager in ORNL's National Security Directorate, and chief of plans and technology for the Tennessee Governor's Office of Homeland Security in Nashville.
Lannom says the team tried to answer questions such as, "If you were a terrorist, what parts of Memphis would you attack and how? Would you use a truck bomb or more sophisticated explosives? What technologies should be inserted to prevent such disasters?"
The advice of the RTI team continues to be sought by city staff in Memphis, especially after emergencies such as a recent industrial chemical fire. The success story in Memphis is an encouraging sign that municipalities are beginning to recognize a new generation of security threats and understand that American technology is providing an increasing number of options to counter these threats to public safety.
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