In Case Of Bombing, Natural Disaster ... What Would We Do?

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Last week, the Payson Police Department was called to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in response to a bomb threat.

The threat turned out to be a false alarm, but Wal-Mart is a major center of activity in Rim Country and, at any time, hundreds of local residents are inside.

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Officials say one of the things needed in case of an emergency is a regional Hazmat system.

If a bomb had actually been planted in the store, the Payson Police Department and Payson Fire Department have procedures in place to deal with the emergency.

But procedures may not be enough. Both departments are short on the equipment they would need to deal with a large-scale emergency.

On Friday, police officers searched Wal-Mart on foot with the help of store employees.

In northern Gila County, there is one officer who is considered a bomb technician.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said when a bomb is found, the Arizona Department of Public Safety is notified so it can dispatch a robot to dispose of the bomb. But that robot had to come from the Valley.

When Payson police officers search a location where there has been a bomb threat, they try to limit their radio use and use caution when entering. The local force does not have a bomb-sniffing dog.

"If something is suspicious, we will identify it from a distance," the police commander said. Canines have been used in the past to locate bombs. The police dog the department uses is not certified for bombs.

A few years ago, when there was a suspicious item on West Forest Drive, the Department of Public Safety was contacted and the agency brought its bomb robot from the Valley.

Without a robot to dismantle a bomb or a trained dog available locally, police focus first on the safety of the citizens in immediate danger.

In the case of the Wal-Mart bomb threat, the police were there to help facilitate an evacuation.

"We try to work with (the employees) because they know their business better than we do," Engler said. The police let the business determine how long they need to stay closed before they feel the threat has passed. Wal-Mart was closed for an hour on Friday while police searched the premises.

The police department can always overrule the decision to reopen the business, Engler said.

When a bomb threat is called in, Engler said the police department never takes it lightly.

Police Sgt. Rod Mamero pointed out that officers were trained on Saturday about how to deal with a pipe-bomb.

"We want to give officers an appreciation of what these (bombs) can do," he said.

Several years ago, a tanker truck rolled at the intersection of highways 87 and 260.

The Town of Payson Major Operations Emergency Plan went into effect. The first step was the organization of an evacuation of the immediate area. The fire department gave the police department a radius of the area that needed to be evacuated. Officers and police volunteers then conducted evacuations.

The emergency plan consists of more than 200 pages and covers any type of crisis that could occur, including earthquakes, flash floods, bombs and wildfires.

Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said, when the fire department encounters a severe crisis, the goal is to make sure it does not worsen while waiting for another agency to come in to oversee the situation.

When asked what type of equipment would the department most likely need for a crisis, Engler quickly said, "a bomb-sniffing canine."

The fire chief said he would love to have a regional Hazmat system, but added it would be expensive.

"It's an expensive piece of equipment for something that does not happen often," he said. "(Ours is) a reality of working with the (equipment) we have.

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