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Disaster Experts Converge in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh ought to be a pretty safe place this week.

Some of the top disaster-preparedness experts in the nation will be in town for an annual conference at the Pittsburgh Hilton, Downtown sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

About 900 people had registered as of Friday for the Emergency Preparedness and Prevention and Hazmat Spills Conference tomorrow through Wednesday.

The conference moves from city to city each year but it hasn t been here since 1994. The response then was good and officials are expecting the same this time.

Some 95 exhibitors will showcase their hazmat products and equipment, filling the hotel s entire display space.

That s something that we re very pleased with, said Bob Full, director of Allegheny County emergency services and chairman of the Region 13 Task Force, one of the co-sponsors of the event. We lobbied for it to come here and it s nice to have it.

The conference is set up for insiders in the disaster field first responders, counter-terrorism professionals and private industry experts who want to examine the newest techniques for hazard response, detection and cleanup.

The conference will feature dozens of workshops and training sessions as well as field trips, including visits to the Somerset County sites of the Flight 93 crash and the Quecreek Mine rescue.

One of the main attractions will be Wednesday, when some 40 specialized emergency vehicles paid for with federal hazmat or homeland security funds will be on display on Commonwealth Place outside the hotel.

The conference received a permit from the city to shut down the street from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

He said planners tried to make the sessions attractive to a wide variety of professionals, from police officers and hospital personnel to utility company staff and maritime industry specialists.

Among some of the notable workshops:

  • A tabletop drill by CSX Transportation that encompasses responses by police, firefighters, school officials and hospitals to a rail disaster.
  • A discussion by Sam Stebbins, a University of Pittsburgh professor, on how climate change could affect the spread of infectious diseases.
  • An EPA session on effective communication during an emergency.
  • A discussion put on by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on preparing for a flu pandemic.
Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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