When the Bedford Hills Fire Department renovations were completed this fall, no one thought the new room capable of being used as a town-wide emergency command center would be put to use so quickly.
But now that is has been put to a thorough test, the space is getting high marks from officials who were there twice a day for over a week during superstorm Sandy and its aftermath.
"Since the building had only been dedicated a few weeks prior to Sandy, none of us had had the opportunity to orient, train, or fully supply the room," said Bedford Police Chief William Hayes. "In spite of this, this “test run” was a success and allowed us to evaluate future needs under real-world conditions."
The emergency command center (EOC) is configured as a classroom setting with tables, a drop-down projector, outlets in the floor and additional power for computers, radios and phones. It can be locked down from the rest of the building.
Hayes said having a centralized space gave stakeholders—police, fire officials, emergency responders, the highway department, public utilities, the National Guard, local government and school districts— a way to manage storm response and recovery from a single location.
"Previously, while we all worked hard at our individual tasks, we did not have a single roof under which to work, coordinate and communicate," said Hayes, who credited the Bedford Hills Fire Department for developing the facility and opening it for the town's use. "This forward-thinking approach to incident management is exactly what localities are encouraged to do under the National Incident Management System."
Bedford Supervisor Lee Roberts agreed, and said she was grateful for being able to meet at the EOC, which allowed the town hall to be used as a warming center for residents.
Roberts said the only entity missing from the daily meetings was NYSEG. She has been critical of NYSEG for their storm response and lack of dedicated staff to help Bedford through storm recovery. "Their lack of response hindered our communications efforts," she said. Other than that, she said the EOC worked well from her perspective.
Bedford Hills Fire Chief Dominick Bueti said the EOC enabled "all departments to come up with game plans to execute" in the face of obstacles presented by the storm.
"It was nice to know that we could turn to the DPW [highway] representative in the room and say, 'I need this,' and it got done immediately without having to make phone calls. It allowed the town to implement action plans set forth in a timely manner like damage assessment, dry ice and water distribution to residents that were unable to get out of their neighborhoods," he said.
Bueti credited Joe Lombardo, first assistant fire chief, with coordinating the extensive efforts required in implementing the technologies behind the EOC, which "all worked flawlessly" until the generator was stolen.
The EOC also served as a dispatch center for a period during the storm for fire and police calls.
Bedford Police Lieutenant Jeffrey Dickan was also enthusiastic about the centralized location for officials to coordinate their efforts, noting "it was very helpful to have everyone in the same room."
Dickan also said that the National Guard and local volunteers should be credited for the town getting through the storm as well as they did.
"We could not have cleared the roads without the National Guard—and I can't remember seeing them here in my 30-year-career," he said.
Dickan also mentioned the efforts of the three fire departments, including spouses who cooked meals three times a day, the ambulance corps—which had three crews managing the garage for three days straight—the CERT team, which assisted with answering phones and directing traffic, and the Red Cross volunteers who staffed shelters and coordinated supply distribution.
"They were incredible," he said. "Those volunteers are what it's all about."