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Homeland Security Council Providing Resources To Emergency Responders

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
03:55PM / Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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The Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee held its monthly meeting at the Lanesborough Fire Department on Wednesday.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The state's Western Regional Homeland Security Council has put together a team of communication experts to help municipalities upgrade their emergency radio frequencies.

That team could have helped North Adams avoid its recent communications problems.

North Adams' upgraded its emergency frequencies, which began interfering with dispatchers in Greene County, N.Y., west of the Hudson River.

Now, the city carries liability if the interference causes response problems in the New York county and will have to foot the bill to renovate the system.

Thomas Grady, a deputy with the Berkshire County sheriff's department and who sits on the regional security council, told representatives from various emergency response agencies who sit on the Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee that the communications team is available to help with any upgrades — so no other municipality faces that type of liability.

"These guys are available," Grady said on Wednesday, boasting of the team member's resumes of managing radio and communication systems.

One such radio project is the effort to bring back the 385 frequencies in Central and North County. The frequency is used between emergency medical services and the hospitals as a back up but has been down for a number of years. Lucy Britton said the antenna and control system is being installed at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield in the next few days; Fairview Hospital will be on Friday and eventually, an antenna will be placed at a high point in Central Berkshire. The frequency has been licensed, she said.

That project was funded through the Homeland Security Council. Unfortunately for North Adams, it is too late to allocate funding to repair the system in North County.

"We can't go back and supplement that with Homeland Security money," Grady said. "We had contacted North County ahead of time and they went ahead and did their own thing."

Another resource Homeland Security is providing is for departments of public works. Grady said the council recently held a training with 97 communities on using handheld GPS systems to pinpoint, monitor and document infrastructure such as culverts that can be damaged during weather events.

"A lot of the town highway departments asked for another round of training," Grady said.

Each of those towns were given units and the council has now purchased 40 more, which will be given to sheriffs' departments. Each sheriff's office will have 10 units that towns can borrow for identification and monitoring projects, Grady said.

Vice Chairman Thomas Grady, on the left, and Chairman Robert Czerwinski.

Also on Wednesday, the Central Berkshire planning committee discussed charging businesses and towns for some federally mandated environmental reporting.

Facilities that reach a certain threshold of hazardous materials must report that to the emergency planning committee, the host towns and the federal government.

Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, chairman of the committee, said the organization stores about 75 reports a year including those from companies like Verizon and General Dynamics.

The committee considered charging a fee - one suggestion was $20 - for that filing and to use the money for leveraging grants as well as help pay for training exercises.

Ultimately, no action was taken on it.

"We're not looking at it as a money maker," Czerwinski said.

Hinsdale Emergency Management Director Raymond Bolduc told the committee that his Fire Department has converted an old school bus into a rehab trailer.

The committee is also looking at a training exercise somewhere in the community. The topic will either be an ethanol spill from a train accident or a gas line exploding. Both of those ideas are being considers because ethanol and natural gas are the two largest hazardous materials transported through the county.


Tags: emergency committee,   emergency preparedness,   EMS,   radio,   

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