What the Homeland Security Crowd Learned From Dallas' Police and Fire Chiefs Tuesday

Dallas Fire and Rescue Chief David Coatney (left) and interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes address the National Homeland Security Conference in Buffalo, New York.
Dallas Fire and Rescue Chief David Coatney (left) and interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes address the National Homeland Security Conference in Buffalo, New York.
Dallas Office of Emergency Management

On Tuesday, the 2017 National Homeland Security Conference kicked off in Buffalo, New York. Typically, a conference for law enforcement and emergency personnel in Buffalo wouldn't make much noise in Dallas, but this year is a little different.

During the conference's opening general session, interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes and Dallas Fire and Rescue Chief David Coatney discussed lessons learned from the July 7 police ambush with the conference's 1,300 attendees.

The Observer followed the conference on Twitter as emergency personnel and other attendees from around the country picked up Pughes' and Coatney's hard-won lessons from last July.

First, Pughes and Coatney offered a chilling timeline of the events on the ground that night.

As Micah Johnson began shooting, the biggest initial concern for Dallas' police and fire departments was to establish communication and make sure the various responding departments coordinated their efforts.

Dallas EMS personnel struggled, Coatney said, because downtown Dallas was still under fire when ambulances arrived. While paramedics refused to leave until they could take wounded officers to the hospital, he said, many officers were to local hospitals in the backs of police cars, showing the importance of maintaining flexibility in chaotic situations. 

A few of the marchers asserted their Second Amendment rights by carrying long guns, Pughes said, sowing confusion among police when the shooting started. David Brown, the Dallas police chief at the time, erroneously called Mark Hughes a person of interest after pictures circulated of him carrying his rifle during the march. Hughes handed over his gun to the first police officer he saw when shooting began.

Because of the size of the protest, media were already on the ground downtown, too, quickening the stream of inaccurate information about the incident, Pughes said. He stressed the need for the city of Dallas to improve communications between partner agencies, train first responders across disciplines and close gaps in emergency policies, so it is better prepared for potential crises.

Coatney emphasized the need for different protocols for civil disturbances and active-shooter situations and for emergency medical services to have a plan to rapidly assess and extract patients from the perimeter of a chaotic emergency.

After an incident like the ambush, Pughes said, provisions must be made for the long-term mental health of survivors and police officers, including those who weren't at the scene.


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