Emergency operations center displaced for temporary library

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Suffield - posted Fri., Oct. 7, 2011
Contributed
This EOC, from a town in West Virginia, shows the general set-up required to conduct operations during an emergency. - Contributed Photo

Not everyone was pleased to see the Kent Memorial Library move into its temporary location on the lower floor of Suffield Town Hall while roof repairs are being effected to the library building. Chief among those who were displeased was Emergency Management Director John Woods, whose emergency command center was summarily displaced by the move.

“We have been developing that room for five years to protect the people in this town, and they took it away from us and gave it to the library, so people could check out books for the next three months. That doesn’t set well with me,” said Woods.

Woods, who has been the emergency management director for the town of Suffield for almost six years, said he was “blind-sided” by the move. “I read about it in the newspaper,” he said, adding that, “They knew if they asked me I would say no.”

Woods said he immediately confronted First Selectman Tom Frenaye, after hearing that the move would be made, and he was told not to worry about it.

“Within 24 hours, Springfield was hit by a tornado,” Woods recalled. “Since then, we’ve had an earthquake and a hurricane.”

The room, which is also used for board meetings, was still set up as an EOC during tropical storm Irene, and Frenaye said, “I feel really good about how the whole group worked during the storm, so we should be very adaptable.” The group that occupies the command center during an emergency includes  Woods, Fire Chief Tom Bellmore, Ambulance Chief Art Groux, Police Chief Mike Manzi, a number of volunteers and Frenaye himself.

Frenaye said the recent storm gave them three days to get set up and the storm itself was kind, but the exercise they had with Irene helped them work through some issues.

Discussing his decision to let the library use the room temporarily, Frenaye said, “There is some provision made for plugging in telephones and computers and using it as an EOC if we need to... the big table that was there for the meeting room isn’t there, but temporary tables could be moved in. If we need to use it, we could set it up in a half-hour.”

Suffield resident Richard Hodge, who is the assistant district emergency coordinator for Amateur Radio Emergency Services, and who helped during the past five years to set the room up, totally disagrees. “The emergency operations center had computers, a whiteboard, wide-screen TV,” he said. “There were projectors in the ceiling and screens on the wall – so we would have to move all the books and bookshelves.” Hodge said that, assuming the jacks are still in the walls, the work could be redone, but it would take valuable time to do it.

Woods said that grant money was used when the room was designated as an emergency center to provide for wiring, printer and computer hookups, training and more. During storm Irene, the center was hooked up to all the towns in Connecticut, the computer terminal brought up police dispatch on a smartboard, and they could watch all the calls that came into the police department.

“The table is gone, the smart board is gone, they cut a hole in the wall for a door, so the projector doesn’t line up anymore,” said Woods about the transformation of the EOC for library needs.

“As I see it, it would take almost a full day and four or five people to clear all the books out of there, to be able to get that room up and running again,” estimated Woods. “If we had a hurricane that was being tracked coming up the coast, we would have plenty of time,” he said, but that is not always the case. Woods said it is his goal to be able to tie in all his links to the state and to homeland security and have all his people called in and ready to roll within 30 minutes of an emergency.

“In my job description, it says you are responsible for the safety of the entire population of this town – which is 12,500 people,” said Woods. There is an emergency management director for each of the 169 towns in Connecticut, said Woods, and they have to swear every year to do their best job to protect the safety of their citizens.

“Emergency is an unexpected thing that happens that you have to be prepared for,” said Woods. “What is so important that someone can go check out a copy of 'Moby Dick' or 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin' or 'Gone With the Wind' that takes precedence over people’s safety in town?”

Frenaye said he believes the emergency management team should be adaptable enough to make the situation work, until the library assumes its regular quarters – hopefully in December.


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