PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee needs elected officials to show up.
The committee brings an array of disciplines together to maintain a regional hazardous materials response plan. It consists of law enforcement, fire departments, emergency managers, emergency medical services, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, departments of health, environmental, hospitals, transportation, media, community groups, businesses and department of public works.
Elected officials should be represented but none show up.
"We're pretty well covered. It is just that one little group," Chairman Robert Czerwinski, Pittsfield's fire chief, said.
The CBREPC isn't alone. Similar groups across the state struggle with getting elected officials, representatives from departments of public works, and private industry to participate in their meetings.
Locally, representatives from General Electric and General Dynamics, both companies with potentially hazardous material on their properties, attend the meetings. Lanesborough Fire Chief Charles Durfee represents highway departments because he works there, too. Those fill the needs for some of the more difficult disciplines to attend.
For government officials, only Lee Treasurer Andrea Wadsworth has attended one meeting recently. State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli has attended in the past but hasn't been at meeting in some time. No others are listed on the attendance sheet.
The meetings are held monthly and are moved from town to town, mostly in Dalton, Pittsfield, Lanesborough and Lenox. The committee represents 13 towns: Becket, Dalton, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Washington, Williamstown, and Windsor.
Bruce Augusti from Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is asking members to at least get elected officials from the town in which thhe meeting is being held to be represented. On Wednesday, the group met at City Hall but nobody from the mayor's office, City Council or Department of Public Works attended.
"The burden of responsibility falls on the emergency manager in that town," Augusti said.
Laura Kittross of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association is particularly looking for officials to attend the next meeting in March, when Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Planner Eammon Coughlin will present his work on sheltering plans.
Coughlin is in the process of developing mass sheltering plans for South, Central, and North counties. In Central County, he's toured Berkshire Community College and Chimney Corners Camp in Becket and met with officials about using those places for mass sheltering situations. With Kittross, the pair have been working on crafting a plan in case the need arises to shelter a large amount of people during an emergency.
But representatives on the emergency planning committee boast of more benefits than ensuring a smooth plan during an emergency. Czerwinski said it is groups like the CBREPC that build teamwork among the towns.
For example, at the recent Polar Plunge on Onota Lake, those responsible for emergency services nearly had to cancel the event when propane tent heaters froze up at 7:30 a.m. Czerwinski called Patrick Carnevale from MEMA, who told him the Cummington Fire Department had some industrial-sized heaters. Czerwinski called the chief there and the department brought them to the event. In the meantime, Durfee got in touch with Lanesborough Selectman John Goerlach, who brought in heaters from his construction company.
"It was easy to pick up the phone and get those resources," Czerwinski said, crediting the relationships built through regional groups.
That same cooperation can be done for other, even more dire emergencies. A number of the agencies have resources to share and the groups let each other know what is available and how to get it.
While those are benefits, the main focus of the group is to ensure "a structured and timely response to any hazardous materials incident within the region." The group just received its recertification from MEMA and is now reviewing its bylaws, which were last approved in 2008.
In other business, Lt. Col. Thomas Grady, of the Berkshire County sheriff's office, reported that registration for an active shooter symposium in Deerfield, headed by the Western Massachusetts Homeland Security Council and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is "filling up quickly." The daylong event looks to representatives from various community groups, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, and others together to understand their roles better. It will include such presentations as from a behavioral analysts from the FBI, and an incident commander from the Newtown, Conn., shootings, among the plans.
"We have a wait list for people outside of Western Mass," Grady said, adding that more than 430 people have signed up.
Grady said representatives from Western Massachusetts receive priority spots first and then if any seats unfilled will be open to those outside of the region.
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