ULL, private businesses create disaster response training program

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From left, Acadian Ambulance Service CEO Richard Zuschlag, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie sign a partnership for disaster response Monday at Safety Management Systems in Lafayette.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From left, Acadian Ambulance Service CEO Richard Zuschlag, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie sign a partnership for disaster response Monday at Safety Management Systems in Lafayette.

Lafayette could serve as hub

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Monday signed agreements with private companies to collaborate on training disaster response personnel, an effort officials hope attracts emergency responders worldwide to train in a state that has much experience dealing with calamities.

“Lots of people around the world need this expertise,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who joined Acadian Ambulance CEO Richard Zuschlag, UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie and others in signing the cooperative endeavors.

UL-Lafayette’s National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute will work with Safety Management Systems, a division of Acadian Ambulance, while the university’s Marine Survival Training Center, will partner with American Pollution Control, AMPOL, and The Response Group for oilfield and chemical spill response.

Landrieu said Louisiana is well-experienced in dealing with natural disasters, including hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav as well as man-made environmental messes like the BP oil spill, train derailments with chemical cargo and chemical leaks at South Louisiana’s myriad plants.

Savoie said NIMSAT was started in 2007 following 2005s hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which laid bare deficiencies in large-scale emergency responses among different agencies.

NIMSAT, according to UL-Lafayette, fosters public-private partnerships set up to respond to disasters and promotes technology that helps inform emergency personnel and the public during disasters. NIMSAT will team up with Acadian company Safety Management Systems, which provides health equipment and professionals to an international clientele.

The second partnership comprises UL-Lafayette’s Marine Survival Training Center, which teaches offshore workers how to stay alive in the water, AMPOL, an environmental remediation company, and TRG, which provides response planning.

Zuschlag said the agreements signed Monday could in the years ahead lead to uniform coordination among responders who are trying to save large numbers of people or contain an environmental accident.

“In the past, the different disasters had different people responding using different lingo,” he said.

Landrieu praised former Gov. Kathleen Blanco for finding state money for UL-Lafayette when the university sought to expand its support for oil and gas companies.

Landrieu also said there was no direct federal dollars that funded the partnerships. She said endeavors like the ones announced Monday used to be funded by earmarks, which are lines of legislation tucked into appropriations bills to fund myriad projects. She said earmarks are hard to get through Congress now.

“While federal money has not been easy to get, it’s not impossible to get. … I will use all my power to do so,” said Landrieu, who Monday made several statements tied to her run next year for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

Republican U.S. House member Bill Cassidy is also campaigning for the job.