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Iowa's IMT: The Backbone for First Responders

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- Much of the video and photos coming out of Moore, OK shows first responders hard at working, finding the lost and saving lives.

But behind those first responders, there is a backbone in place, deploying and aiding them in the face of chaos.

In Iowa, that backbone is called the Incident Management Team (IMT). It's a multi-agency network that connects the towns and cities across the state. The IMT is made up of police, firefighters and city workers who come together in the case of extreme emergencies and special events to make sure Iowans are safe.

The tornado in Moore is a reminder of why the IMT is a crucial organization.

"Just like anybody, I was in shock and disbelief; a vibrant town like that, gone in just a few minutes," said IMT member and Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Steve O'Konek.

Unlike most, however, O'Konek had just been in Moore, two weeks before the disaster happened.

"It was kind of surreal. I was just down that stretch of roadway and down that neighborhood," he said.

As a member of the IMT, O'Konek knows what it feels like to respond when he looks at something like that twister.

"The minute that tornado went through, that agency (in Moore) was immediately overwhelmed, and it had exceeded its capability to respond," he said.

In Iowa, that's when the IMT steps in and gets to work, helping the local agencies wade through the chaos. If something were to happen in Cedar Rapids, the IMT sets up wherever it's needed.

"I think anybody in public safety prepares for the worst and hopes for the best," O'Konek said.

Cedar Rapids Assistant Fire Chief Greg Smith remembers how it felt to have that help during the floods of 2008.

"When you're hit with a devastation in your home community,  there's an emotional reaction and it's nice to have other personnel come in and kind of assist you through that," Smith said.

That assistance only makes the IMT better. Every time something like the disaster in Moore happens, it's a reminder of why they're here.

"It kind of slaps you in the face a little bit, when in reality, all those teams are training continuously," Smith said.

And why they keep training.

"We try to improve in ways to make our response better, make it faster, make it easier, make it more effective," O'Konek said.

The IMT is entirely federally funded, and it was created when the U.S. government gave the states money for homeland security projects after 9/11.
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