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Airport's response to threats goes undisputed at forum

By John Goodall

Friday, October 12, 2001

Officials say they had no plan for an event such as Sept. 11.
NORTH JACKSON -- Any critics were silent at a forum called by Mahoning County Commissioner Vickie Allen Sherlock to discuss how local law enforcement agencies responded to a potential disaster at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport on Sept. 11.
"I think that everything went very smoothly," said Ed Reese, another Mahoning County commissioner.
About 15 people attended the meeting, mostly elected officials from Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Police, firefighters: Of the more than 12 law enforcement and fire departments at the airport Sept. 11, only the Vienna police and fire departments and the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department sent representatives to the meeting Thursday.
Some law enforcement officials have complained that the situation at the airport was confusing on Sept. 11, with no one clearly in charge. The usual protocol for dispatching police departments to an incident outside their jurisdiction were not followed, and the airport was filled with police officers and elected officials from a wide area.
No plan of action: On the day of the terrorist attacks, 300 travelers were stranded at the local airport, and officials were concerned about a bomb threat, according to police reports. The airport did not have a plan to deal with this type of event, said Thomas Nolan, the director of aviation.
"There is no plan when it comes to a natural tragedy like this," he said. "This is not the kind of event that occurred before in the history of aviation."
He said that he appreciated the efforts of everyone who came to the airport that day, including commissioners from both Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the Mahoning County prosecutor.
Both counties contribute money to fund the airport and appoint members to the Western Reserve Port Authority Board, which runs the airport, but the facility is located in Trumbull County.
"I think we were all of the opinion at that point that we would all show up and help out," Sherlock said. "Does anyone dispute with that?"
No one did. The only comment came from Mike Hagood, assistant Vienna fire chief, who suggested that it might have been safer for the political leaders to be elsewhere until the potential disaster was diffused.
"If I got all my top officials in the airport, and a bomb goes off, where does that leave you?" he said.
Liability issues: Officials said they were pleased by the response by so many police officers from so many jurisdictions, but there was also concern about potential liability issues if one of them were injured.
Police officers from outside Vienna would have no jurisdiction at the airport unless they were called there by the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, said Ernie Cook, the chief deputy.
The airport has a plan for dealing with bomb threats that details the order law enforcement departments are supposed to be called, he said.
"I made the calls; I did it instinctively; I did it on the fly; and I stand by it," said Dave Ovesny, chief of the Vienna Police Department, which oversees security at the airport. "There are things that could have been better, that is the simple truth.
"But the people stranded here were treated well, and we will all walk away able to think about what we will do better," he said.