The World Games in Birmingham was not as successful as organizers initially hoped. In fact, it was a complete failure if you look at the financial numbers. But there were some invaluable aspects regarding emergency training leading up to the event, according to the top emergency response official in Jefferson County.
The international sporting event was held in Birmingham and surrounding metro areas from July 7-17. Hotels were expected to be packed with people from around the world, and restaurants were waiting for a busy 11 days. However, vacancies were not as limited as some anticipated.
Restaurant owners and brewery owners told 1819 News they didn't see much of a difference other than the faces of patrons. They knew the patrons during the Games weren't their regular guests and were happy to welcome people into the city.
World Games CEO Nick Sellers said fewer people came to Birmingham because of COVID-19 and the struggling economy. Whatever the reason, the World Games came out with a $14 million deficit. Some local businesses and vendors are waiting to be paid with the possibility those obligations will be met as the city of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Commission voted to offer a lifeline.
But not everything that came from the World Games was a waste. Some of the free training leading up to the Games will be used for years when responding to emergencies, including HAZMAT, active shootings and tornadoes.
Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency director Jim Coker said there was no way to put a price on the training that local first responders received in preparation for the World Games. State agencies, including the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (EMA), the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) also took part in some of the training.
"In 2017, we began planning for the World Games," said Coker. "... Many aspects of the training that was brought to Jefferson County will play a critical role in a significant event."
Coker said in some cases, people were sent to training sites across the country, and in other cases, experts traveled to Alabama to train. In all, 1,600 people underwent some type of training.
"Our closest training partner is actually the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston," said Coker. "They came on board with us early to assist us with training for responders."
Coker said over the course of five years, over 50 training courses were hosted for not only first responders but also for civilians that had roles in the World Games.
"And there is no cost for federal training, and that's the key point, there is no cost," Coker said. "The World Games is over, but the trained people are still here. That will help our area, Jefferson County, next time we have a big event or a natural disaster such as a tornado or a flood."
Other training courses included cyber security training, radiation training, explosives training, public information officer training, ArcGIS training for emergency managers, and Incident Command System (ICS) training, among several others.
"Probably the most notable is the Incident Command," advised Coker. "[T]hat's how to manage an incident, whether it's a pre-planned event or a tornado, or a flood … It can be used for any kind of event or incident, and fire departments use it every single day."
Birmingham Fire and Rescue battalion chief Tobias Jones said the experience of preparing for such a large event gave fire personnel tools they will continue to use.
"Our profession utilizes the National Incident Command Systems daily to manage local emergencies," Jones explained. "This event allowed us to experience ICS on a larger scale, with this being the first SEAR 1 event in our state's history. As a result, we obtained more training in ICS, preparing for the Games, and the after-action review identified additional training needs we could use to enhance our skills and abilities. Birmingham Fire Rescue will take the lesson from this incredible experience to continue improving and enhancing our ability to mitigate emergencies for the city of Birmingham."
Coker said some other good news is that there were no significant emergency events at the World Games. He added that although first responders would have gotten some of this training without the World Games coming to Alabama, it wouldn't have been as fast-tracked and extensive.
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