Kent Watts Was at the Pentagon on September 11th
Kent Watts, Special Operations Chief for the Clearwater Fire and Rescue Department, recently spoke to members and guests of the Rotary Club of Clearwater at the Belleair Country Club. He described in vivid detail his experiences as being among the first emergency teams to respond to the Pentagon attack on September 11, 2001.
At the time of the attack, his Rescue and Recovery Team was stationed at Fairfax, Virginia, less than ten miles away. Many photos were displayed on a large screen, showing damage to the building. Watts described the complexities involved in building temporary supports to shore up the foundation, of weakened structures that appeared ready to collapse over the heads of rescuers and those involved in the reconstruction.
Watts was placed in charge of the immense task of removing an entanglement of debris, consisting of concrete, pilings, cables, wires and more, and then developing ways to shore up the foundation. The area of the building hit by the plane had many columns destroyed that had supported the building. These needed to be replaced, but first the debris from floor to ceiling had to be removed. The debris was removed and temporary support columns were built, all while workers wondered if the building above would collapse before supports could be installed.
Watts has an impressive background to have prepared him for this assignment. His title was Rescue Specialist/Rescue Squad Officer when he was a member of the Federal Emergency Search and Rescue team and also the State Department's Foreign Disaster Assistance International Search and Rescue Team. Watts has been to several countries while involved with emergency recovery measures in natural disasters, including flooding, tsunami, and earthquakes. He has also been in operations related to the bombing of an American Embassy and he participated in the Oklahoma City recovery efforts.
From his vast experience in search and recovery, involving a wide variety of disasters, Watts has developed many protocols that apply to the varied specific needs required for each type of disaster. The technology and protocols are rewritten, with each new experience. Every flood, each bombing, all air disasters are not the same. Many of his recommended protocols for emergencies have been adopted internationally.
Watts is currently deputy Commander and Chief Training Officer of the Pinellas County Technical Rescue Team and Clearwater is fortunate to have him helping our Community, State and Nation to prepare for potential crises. Watts continues to teach Technical Rescue classes on local, national and international levels. In Clearwater he oversees the Technical Rescue Team, Dive Team, Marine Rescue Team, Clearwater Police SWAT Medics, Marine Firefighting Operations, Honor Guard and Urban Area Security Government Grants program. Watts spoke of the value, in any major disaster, to have one room where an individual in that room can immediately resolve every possible problem that may arise. These are representatives from many agencies who can act together, as a unified team. They must be able to make immediate decisions regarding engineering, legal, police, fire, municipal and for many other specialties.
Watts related an example for the value of being able to make an immediate decision, in the Pentagon recovery. Every piece of debris was being taken out by hand. It was a very slow process. It was recommended that a nearby solid wall be blown out, so that trucks could be driven in, and out, to carry larger volumes of debris. This would speed up recovery by about two months. But delays were experienced before this could be done, because no one wanted to take responsibility, for knocking down a perfectly good wall.
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