Emergency center to stay at fire station
by Margo Avakian
Jul 18, 2013 | 2593 views | 0 0 comments | 1169 1169 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- Following a lengthy discussion, the selectboard voted unanimously to keep the town’s emergency operations center at its present location, the building housing the volunteer fire department. Sort of.

Administrative functions related to an ongoing emergency will be performed at the town office, and the emergency management directors will be asked to develop a “Plan B” that includes the development of an alternate EOC site.

The board members began the evening with different opinions on which site should be chosen. Board chair Edee Edwards felt that the town offices provided the best option, particularly because of access to communications facilities. Edwards argued that the fire department “needs its own logistical space”; that the fire station is more vulnerable to flooding than other sites; and that concerns over school safety and protection of vital records can be dealt with adequately. Further, Edwards has reservations about investing in what is essentially a private facility.

Lewis Sumner argued that the town office is not big enough; that most personnel involved in emergency management are used to using the fire station; the present EOC has proved adequate in drills; and that no one had done cost estimates on moving the EOC. “It’s not going to be cheap, folks,” Sumner said. “It’s best to leave it where it is,” Sumner concluded. “If you want to fix it up a bit, fine.”

Earl Holtz argued throughout the evening that the EOC must be flexible enough to allow operations to take place in whatever site is most appropriate to any given emergency, “not tethered to one place.”

Joan Courser offered the community hall as a possible alternative, but the cost of fitting it up might be prohibitive, as it has little to offer but space. It also shares the disadvantage of being privately owned, though Courser suggested that a transfer would be possible.

It became clear early in the evening that the town offices, a suite of rooms rented from the school district, cannot serve as the primary EOC site, as the school board will not allow it. “It’s a flat ‘no,’” declared school board chair Homer Sumner. “Ditto,” echoed school board member Paul Blais. The school’s communications facilities were made available during the Irene emergency, when no students were present, and conceivably would be available again in similar circumstances. But as for making any part of the building the primary EOC site, “The school would not be willing to do that at all,” Sumner stated firmly.

Sumner went on to say that the primary concern is school safety. “We had to jump through 87 hoops,” Sumner said, to satisfy the state’s school safety audit. “The state is already unhappy with having the town clerk’s office (with its relatively unrestricted access) in the school building,” Sumner added.

Co-emergency management director John LaFlamme presented a detailed comparison of three sites, the town offices, the fire station, and the town garage. LaFlamme’s comparison included a listing of necessary facilities and conditions, noting which are or could be available at each site. The firehouse scored substantially better than the other two sites. LaFlamme also provided cost estimates for bringing each site up to par; remediating the fire station site would be the least expensive. LaFlamme noted that while making the town garage the primary site would be prohibitively expensive, much of that cost would not be essential to making the garage an alternate site.

“It is my suggestion,” LaFlamme concluded, “that the primary EOC location be the fire station, and the town garage be the alternate location. An alternate location is a requirement. In addition, when an incident grows in size and complexity, an off-site multi-agency coordination group comprised of administrators/executives (our selectboard, etc.) be located at the town office (as recommended by) ICS 700 training (and) the ASTM Standard Guide for EOC Development.”

After a lengthy debate in which redundancy, flexibility, and cost containment emerged as the primary concerns of the many residents present, the board essentially adopted LaFlamme’s recommendations, adding a proviso that a clear written agreement between the town and fire department must be worked out.
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