Friday, March 14, 2003
Prepared for the worst: coordinated disaster management in Carlisle
In 1993 Carlisle adopted a Comprehensive Emergency Response Plan (CERP). It sits unobtrusively on the shelf in Fire Chief David Flannery's office like any other manual or guide. Between Reading HazMat Labels and Fire District 14 Resources, the CERP does not stand out. On closer inspection, however, the four-inch thick binder becomes a guided tour of all the terrible catastrophes that can befall a town. There are 24 sections, from Damage Assessment, Earthquakes, and Weapons Related, to Radiological Plan, Evacuation, Hurricane, Tornado, and Civil Disturbance. State law requires every city and town to have such a plan, and through the office of Public Safety and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA, the state arm of FEMA), the state helps local officials keep their plans up to current state standards. Flannery said that in response to the terrorist attacks that began on September 11, 2001, MEMA has prepared a template for how to respond to radiological and biochemical terror attacks, which he will soon be incorporating.
No matter what sort of emergency, Flannery says the first response is always local. Carlisle fire or police personnel are the first to be notified and are the first to assess the situation.
Regional emergency resources
If local resources are not sufficient to handle a particular problem, there are a number of other resources to depend on. Fire District 14, made up of 26 fire departments around Carlisle, maintains a hazardous materials response team and dedicated vehicle, which can be used by any department in the district if necessary. The State Fire Marshal's office has a communications vehicle in case of an interruption in communication systems. A mutual aid district, comprised of Carlisle, Concord, Acton, Maynard, Westford, and Chelmsford, allows each town to depend on the others when many trucks or fire fighters are needed. As many as 100 personnel, ten ambulances, ten fire engines, six ladder trucks, and six trucks are available under the shared resources agreement. Two years ago, Carlisle called on five communities, including 25 additional firefighters to help contain the Rogers Road brush fire.
In case of a large-scale medical emergency, the town has a detailed medical response plan worked out with Emerson Hospital whereby the hospital would send paramedics and supplies to Carlisle and set up a triage network. The most serious injuries would be handled through the state's trauma network, which keeps a running tab on the status of area hospitals, allowing ambulances and helicopters to ferry the injured to the closest and most appropriate medical facilities.
Fire and police work together
The fire and police departments also have a very close working relationship. The town's communication system, which is staffed 24 hours every day, is housed at the police station and shared by both departments. Flannery says that head dispatcher Mike Taplin called him personally within minutes of the attack on the World Trade Center, and along with Chief Galvin, the three were in constant communication all day.
Regional law enforcement resource - NEMLEC
Similar to the shared regional and state resources the fire department can depend on in emergencies, the police department is also part of a network of law enforcement agencies. The Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Consortium includes the police departments in 40 cities and towns, from Concord and Littleton to Haverhill and Gloucester. Member departments often request additional officers to help provide public safety or to respond to emergencies. Galvin said he sent two officers last week to Tufts University as part of the Rapid Response Team, to help keep the peace while former President George Bush gave an address.
"The beauty of this [system] is that the only time it costs Carlisle any money is when I send officers. If we received 100 officers from other towns for a situation, it wouldn't cost anything," says Galvin.
Another benefit to NEMLEC membership is Incident Command Response Training, which trains officers to respond to violent or dangerous situations, whether they stem from a terror attack or not. As a result of recent training in handling a sniper attack, Galvin met last week with Andy Goyer, principal at Carlisle School, and the crisis management team there (which, not coincidentally, includes Dave Flannery in his role as facilities manager), to incorporate a written procedure for locking down the school in case of such an attack. This procedure will become part of the school's Crisis Management Plan, also required by state law.
Emergency shelter shortage
In terms of plans and written procedures, Carlisle seems very well prepared. If there is one area of vulnerability that Flannery would like to see addressed, it's the issue of emergency shelter. Only the school campus is large enough to accommodate more than a hundred or so people, but Flannery points out that it is not equipped to provide shelter, since there are no emergency generators on the site. In case of a large, sustained power outage, most of the residents in town would be without electricity, water, and, perhaps, heat. The fire chief estimates the cost for equipping the Corey Building at the school with an emergency generator would be about $100,000. He says past requests to do just this have failed at Town Meeting. But, he says, "I'm going to keep asking for it. I'm not giving up."
© 2003 The