Thirty miles away from New York City, Robert Alpaugh watched the World Trade Center towers crumble.
"We actually watched the second plane hit and both towers fall," Alpaugh said "And that's something that's driven me for a number of years. If we're that close and that's a target, we need to prepare for it."
Along with other members of the Morris County Sheriff's Office, Alpaugh responded to the terror attack, eager to provide any assistance possible. But without a plan that matched the chaos, his New Jersey team had no clear direction.
"At that point our response was so early on, we really didn't have a handle on what was going on yet," Alpaugh said. "They were still trying to get (the scene) under control."
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That experience has been a driving factor for Alpaugh, a retiring detective sergeant who works as a New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology contractor for first responder training events.
Alpaugh featured as a major speaker during a training session hosted by Chattahoochee Valley Community College Tuesday and Wednesday, specifically targeting public safety response following an explosion. The event was funded through the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Management Agency; it was sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), as well as New Mexico Tech.
Representatives from more than 20 public safety agencies across Alabama and Georgia — including Auburn Police Division Chief Paul Register, Columbus Fire and EMS Chief Jeff Meyer and Opelika Fire Department Chief Terry Adkins — came together during the two day event to share strategies on how to respond best to catastrophic bombing events.
Much of the program focused not just on how to respond to a bombing event, but how to prevent one by looking at potential targets within the community.
"Basically, we have to understand who would want to detonate a device in your community," said Connie Blackford, a TEEX training specialist. "We look at that type of individual historically and we also look at your community and say 'If I had one device, where would I detonate it?'"
The training included a simulated scenario that allowed agencies to test their existing emergency response strategies and collaborate with neighboring departments. Such exercises play a crucial part in making sure resources are allocated effectively during straining situations, Blackford said.
"This is a great way to network and understand each other's roles," she said. "The day of the event is not the time to introduce yourself. We need to know each other and train with each other. It'll be chaotic, but it can organized chaos."
Representatives from area civilian and military hospitals were also able to gain information about how best to handle a dramatic influx of patients during a disaster, as well as how to handle injuries caused by explosions.
Alpaugh hopes that by creating strategies for agencies to work cohesively, communities will be better prepared for potentially devastating events, whether man-made or natural. Incidents like bombings are a potential hazard that he said he fears most American cities are not prepared for.
"Do you think in Jerusalem they're talking around the dinner table about how to respond to a bombing incident? Do you think that that's an average conversation happening Phenix City?" he said during one of Wednesday's lectures. "Here we tell our children to be careful of hot stoves and talking to strangers. I think it's a mindset that we as a community are going to have to get into."