Camaraderie, humility played roles in bombing recovery efforts 

click to enlarge The National Summit on Homeland Security Law kicked off April 17 with a panel from former city leaders. - BEN FELDER
  • Ben Felder
  • The National Summit on Homeland Security Law kicked off April 17 with a panel from former city leaders.

Mayor Ron Norick had felt the blast in his office building five miles away and was meeting with police and fire officials 90 minutes later, still not aware of what had occurred.

“I remember standing right across the street; there was a huge crater and cars were still on fire,” Norick recalled of his first look at Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. “They said it was a bomb and I remember, my reaction was, ‘What do you mean a bomb?’ I thought, 'Why in the world would anybody plant a bomb in Oklahoma City?’”

The shock that a terrorist attack would take place in America’s heartland was recalled by city and rescue officials speaking on Friday morning in Oklahoma City at the opening session of the National Summit on Homeland Security Law, a four-day conference at the Oklahoma City University School of Law.

“A terrorist event was the last thing on my mind,” said Sam Gonzales, Oklahoma City’s police chief during the bombing that killed 168.

Norick; Gonzales; Gary Marrs, a former fire chief; Gov. Frank Keating and current Edmond police chief Bob Ricks, who also was an FBI official during the attack, launched the conference with a recount of the hours and days following the blast.

Norick remarked that while the shock of experiencing a terrorist attack weighed heavy, city and state agencies responded as if this were a regular event.

“It was not a day of chaos for me, it was a day of seeing how well the different organizations operated,” Norick said.

A command center had been established within two hours, the National Guard mobilized that afternoon and multiple rescue operations demonstrated an ability to communicate and work together in ways enhanced by years of developing good relationships with each other, Keating said.

“I was amazed as the new governor of Oklahoma," Keating said. "The competency of these guys was remarkable and what followed was extraordinary."

One of the themes to the morning panel was that a prior relationship between rescue officials helped limit the chaos and confusion following the bomb.

“Because Sam [Gonzales] and Gary [Marrs] and I knew each other, we immediately had no issues with regards to jurisdiction,’ said Ricks, who was special agent in charge for the FBI during the recovery and investigation.

Having rescue training is critical, Ricks said, but so is having a team that can put aside pride when responding to a disaster.

“We had people who were individually willing to sacrifice their own needs,” Ricks said.

Norick also remembered that many of the city leaders would regularly get together prior to the bombing, helping them build relationships that made a difference in the recovery effort.

“We played a lot of golf,” Norick said about his fellow city leaders. “And, come to think of it, that was important.”

The event is being held at the Oklahoma City University School of Law’s new downtown building, two blocks from the bombing site, also served as a command center in 1995. Continuing through Monday, the conference includes panels featuring other legal and political experts speaking about national security.

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