San Bernardino officials bring lessons to Duluth

When two terrorists opened fire at a government building in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015, training and collaboration were key to a successful response, emergency managers told a crowd in Duluth on Tuesday.

When two terrorists opened fire at a government building in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015, training and collaboration were key to a successful response, emergency managers told a crowd in Duluth on Tuesday.

While 14 people were pronounced dead at the scene, an additional 22 victims were taken to local hospitals in just 57 minutes - and there was not a single in-hospital death.

The perpetrators, a married couple, were tracked down by law enforcement and killed in a shootout just four hours after the attack, preventing a widescale disruption like the four-day manhunt for the suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

"People died. It was awful," said Robin Lindsay, an emergency services officer for the San Bernardino County Fire Department. "But our response was as textbook as it could get."

Lindsay and colleague Michael Antonucci, the county's emergency services manager, were on hand to deliver a keynote address at the seventh annual Under One Roof Preparedness and Emergency Management Conference at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.


The conference brings together emergency managers, health care providers, law enforcement, volunteer agencies and others for two days of training on preparing for disasters ranging from floods to terrorist attacks to wildfires.

Lindsay and Antonucci stressed to attendees the importance of inter-agency collaboration and training before disaster strikes.

At the time, the San Bernardino attack was the deadliest shooting in the United States in three years. The perpetrators targeted a county health department training session and holiday party, where more than 70 people were present.

Lindsay noted that the attack occurred in a gathering space where her own department had held a holiday party just two years prior.

"It gives you pause," she said. "This could've happened to any one of us at any time. The world has changed for us. It should've changed for you too. That's why we're bringing our lessons learned, because you never expect something so heinous to happen in an environment like this."

First responders were on the scene within four minutes, Lindsay said. There were about 350 people in the building at the time, Antonucci said - and every one of them had to be treated as hostile until law enforcement could sort out the situation.

Hospitals were notified so the transport of patients could begin. Other county employees were placed in lockdown. The search for the perpetrators quickly began.

A unified command post was set up to ensure a centralized strategy and public message. The FBI and other federal agencies came in to assist, and, Lindsay said, they were able to find areas where their resources could be pooled.


Noting the targeting of a government agency, Lindsay said public officials need to plan for the worst-case scenario.

"Stop and think about your department, your division," she said. "What if 66 percent of your department was gone? Just gone. Do you have a plan for continuing business? This is a business that has to continue to go."

That proved to be a difficult task for the health department, which Antonucci said has had plenty of struggles in the 17 months since the attack.

"Every time there's something like the Pulse (nightclub) shooting in Orlando, there's more resignations," he said. "They just can't take it."

Local agencies also have been slapped with monumental costs - to the tune of $26 million, he said - because the expenses fall short of the threshold to receive federal funds. That's something local officials are now trying to change.

"If that $26 million price tag happened in the city of Duluth, how would it affect them?" Antonucci said. "Our county budget is $4.5 billion. How would it affect one of our cities that have a $30 million budget or a $40 million budget? It would wipe one of these municipalities off that map."

The Under One Roof conference, which concludes Wednesday, is being attended this year by more than 400 people from five states and Canada, said Tony Guerra, a member of the planning committee and the disaster program manager at the American Red Cross in Duluth.

Attendees were met with a video message from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who said Minnesota is prone to an above-average number of natural disasters and stressed that planning brings fiscal savings.


Organizers said the conference has been a fast-growing event, selling out in just one month this year and leading them to consider plans for next year.

"This conference just keeps on growing," said Adam Shadiow, executive director of the Arrowhead EMS Association. "We can't hardly see to the back of the room anymore, which is really great news. It's also kind of humbling for those of us who do the work to put this conference on."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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