Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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California Lawmakers Urged on Anti-Terror Medical Team

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) - A doctor and first responder at the San Bernardino terror attack urged California lawmakers on Friday to create specialist tactical medical teams so hospitals are better equipped to handle future shootings and disasters.

Dr. Michael Neeki made several recommendations at a Friday morning hearing before the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management.

A panel chaired by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez heard testimony from several first responders at an event titled "The San Bernardino Incident, Lessons Learned," hosted at the San Bernardino County Government Center on Arrowhead Avenue.

Local law enforcement, doctors, and other officials gathered at the morning hearing to discuss how to respond to future emergencies and mass shooting events in California.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and San Bernardino Police Lt. Michael Madden testified first, highlighting the heroism of first responders and cooperation between agencies.

McMahon emphasized that there were "no egos" involved in the response or territorial disputes that might have interfered with emergency efforts.

"We in law enforcement will never be able to prevent every tragic event from occurring in this country, or specifically in this county," McMahon said. "We do our very best to identify potential threats and deal with them before it becomes a problem. But I'm very confident that if God forbid another one of these types of events occur - we are well prepared to respond to it and deal with it."

Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire on county employees at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2, 2015, killing 14 people and injuring 22 others. The couple was killed in a shootout with police on the streets of San Bernardino.

Neeki, a doctor at the Arrowhead Medical Center, said medical teams had done an "incredible job" in treating the wounded.

But the doctor said that underfunding for hospital disaster care and the lack of specialized tactical training for physicians is a concern.

"We get more training in dermatology than in tactical medicine. Very few tactical physicians are in this country," Neeki said.

He asked California to create a Special Medical Anti-Terror Response Team, or SMART, that could respond to shootings and other disasters.

In Washington, a medical team has been formed to specifically handle incidents involving an active shooter, Neeki said.

"They do nothing but this. They train for it, they are ready for it, they are ready to go in. If it's good enough for our presidents and members of Congress, it should be good enough for everybody in the country. That's the attitude that we should have," Neeki said.

Madden, who was one of the first officers at the scene, said he was troubled by the ease in which law enforcement communications are intercepted by the public and said he worried that current phone technology was putting responders in an "extremely precarious position."

"Our radio traffic was playing real time across the nation. It was being broadcast live on YouTube and other network systems for all to hear - including potential suspects, who are now being made aware of what law enforcement's actions are," Madden said.

He encouraged the state to help provide encrypted radio frequencies, noting that officers are sometimes reluctant to communicate over the air because of concerns that suspects will listen in on their conversations using smartphone apps.

"That's a very dangerous situation for us to find ourselves in," Madden said.

Sheriff McMahon pleaded with California legislators not to curtail programs that allow local law enforcement to obtain armored trucks and other tactical equipment that protected officers during the attack.

"I know across the country there's been a lot said about the militarization of police. And maybe there are situations where that type of equipment shouldn't be used. But it was very evident on Dec. 2 that that equipment was critical," McMahon said.

He said the county was able to purchase the equipment through asset-seizure funding, Homeland Security grants, and federal program that offers local law enforcement surplus military equipment.

"It can sit in a bone yard and deteriorate and become junk or it can be given to the local law enforcement agency to help them do their job," McMahon said.

He added that a military surplus helicopter had been used to transport two injured victims from Inland Regional Center to the hospital.

"That's the need for that equipment," McMahon said.

San Bernardino Fire Division Chief Kathleen Opliger, American Medical Response operations manager David Molloy and San Bernardino County Emergency Services manager Michael Antonucci also testified.

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