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With Sandy, Command Center Gets Test Run

The new emergency operations center at the Bedford Hills Fire Department gets a thumbs up from local officials.

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."

Donald Diamond November 14, 2012 at 01:54 PM
There is no doubt that the emergency center is a profound asset to have. However, its benefits are overshadowed by the fact that the Town allows Cablevision to function without backup generators. Whenever there is a power failure, Cablevision goes out of service until power is restored. Its customers have no telephone service or internet access during the power outage. Adding to the problem in Sandy, AT&T mobile phone service went out. This left those who had both services isolated with no means of getting information except from the radio. Radio was no help because the news stations covered every place hit by the storm except Westchester County. The only time I heard the County Executive was when he was at a press conference with the Governor. I never heard any Town Supervisor talk on the radio. If there was any radio coverage, there was no way to find except a random hit when tuning the radio dial. More important that the inability to learn where ice was being distributed, there was no way to get help if an emergency occurred. To add insult to injury, I learned that Cablevision customers would not get a refund for the time it was out of service was to call them to request it. I think that our public officials from the Town Boards to the Governor should takes steps to make sure that Cablevision and cell phone operators have power backup for their services.
Peter Sattler November 14, 2012 at 04:23 PM
A nice use of the new space!

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