New City Hazard Plan Focuses on Terrorism, Infrastructure Risks

Surveillance footage of the Market Street building collapse. NBC 10.

By Shealyn Kilroy

As Philadelphians, we experience a number of daily hazards. These hazards are beyond the characters you may see in a Wawa past midnight.

City Council adopted the 2017 All Hazard Mitigation Plan on June 8th. From natural disasters to human-caused incidents, the 949-page document identifies risks to the city and details the possible planned responses.

The 2017 HMP has been in the works since November 2015. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) developed the plan, corralling agencies such as Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Police Department, and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The City’s first HMP was adopted in 2012, but the 2017 HMP is the first to mention human-caused hazards. The document provides a view of the City’s thinking about the relative risks of terror attacks and other threats.

One of the potential threats highlighted in the report are active shooters, defined as those “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Between 2000 and 2013, 486 were killed and 557 were injured in the United States in such incidents.

In Philadelphia, most gun injuries are criminal in nature rather than the result of active shooters, the plan claims. Data from 2013 to 2016 shows 17 shootings in Philadelphia that left three or more victims. Only one incident resulted in three deaths.

In the eyes of the plan’s authors, Philadelphia’s worst active shooter scenario would play out in the following manner: gunmen would target a “local busy street fair, with approximately 20,000 people in attendance in a six block stretch of road.”

The shooters would open fire from several locations, killing thirty attendees and leaving around one hundred injured. Area schools and neighborhoods would be put on lockdown until the gunmen were in custody or dead. This scenario was created from an analysis of recent shooter incidents and the tragedies that occurred in San Bernardino, Paris and at Virginia Tech.

Another concern of city officials, an improvised explosive device attack, is defined by the Department of Homeland Security as the “use of a ‘homemade’ bomb and/or device to destroy, incapacitate, harass or distract.”

Based on terrorist attacks trends, city planners considered a worst worst-case scenario for IED attack in which domestic terrorists detonate multiple IEDs near the Constitution Center and Liberty Bell during a “private celebration.”

This scenario could result in an estimated 210 fatalities and over 1,216 wounded in the immediate area of the explosion. If the IED were to hit a city landmark or a stadium, it could cost over $500 million to rebuild.

This report does not release the frequency with which the Philadelphia Police Department Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) disposes of or defuses dangerous devices, claiming that the information is “sensitive and beyond the scope of this document.” However, the plan says that few of the calls the BDU responds to are legitimately dangerous.

For active shooter incidents, the City’s released responses in this plan are vague, noting only that authorities would shut down nearby roads and schools until the shooters are arrested or killed.

For an IED, the Police Bomb Disposal Unit would address “suspicious devices and activities as swiftly and safely as possible.” Plans for other contemporary forms of terrorism, such as vehicle-ramming and knife attacks, are not identified in this report.

Additionally, the plan notes that the Mayor can declare a State of Emergency if any hazard arises. These declarations allows the Mayor to take measures such as halting access to public roads and prohibiting the sale, carrying and possession in public of weapons.

The probability of an active shooter occurrence or IED attack is “possible,” which means it ranges between a one and 49.9 percent annual probability. Labeled as a higher, “likely” occurrence in the city is the hazard of “Infrastructure Failure.”

This ranking is due to the large number of area bridges which are structurally deficient and “instances of building collapses in the past.” Looking at you, 2013 Market Street building collapse.

The city risks bridge failures and houses imminently dangerous structures. There are 63 bridges considered structurally deficient, according to the report.

As for imminently dangerous structures, these are buildings at serious risk of collapsing. The report notes that the highest number of these structures are located in the 19132 zip code, which covers a section of North Philadelphia bounded by Allegheny, 13th Street, Susquehanna and Kelly Drive.

Other hazards outlined in the plan that pose high-probability threats to the city include extreme cold, extreme heat, flooding, winter storms and windstorms.

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