The Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee announced the grants at its meeting Wednesday morning in Lanesborough.
Central Berkshire received $25,000 while the Northern and Southern Berkshire committees each were awarded $23,000 from the highly competitive grant program.
Bruce Augusti from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Agawam was in attendance to break the news and give credit to the parties involved.
"Out of the $200,000 that was available, Berkshire County grabbed about $75,000. So congratulations to this group and to the other two regions equally," he said.
Committee Chairman Robert Czerwinski, retired Pittsfield fire chief, got more specific about the program.
"Last spring, there was a push by MEMA and FEMA to identify airports that would work as good POD facilities in the region. Pittsfield Municipal Airport has sufficient size that allows us to land supply planes at that airport," he said "The grant was put in for a request for a 40-foot storage container to be put on the airport property and fill it with basic supplies. Water, blankets, meals ready to eat (MRE), lighting equipment, logistic needs, things of that type."
Czerwinski said even though the main site is located in Pittsfield it will benefit the entire county.
"It's a shared facility. If there was a disaster in North or South County those supplies could easily get shuttled there and they would just get replaced inside the shipping container [in Pittsfield]," he said.
Chairman Czerwinski gave particular credit to Pittsfield Airport manager Chris Keane, Inspector Chris Deinlein, and Emergency Management Director Ray Bolduc from Hinsdale for helping facilitate the grant process.
Keane deflected credit but is excited about the potential uses for the grant money.
"There was a lot of work behind the scenes even before I really came on as airport manager. We are really looking forward to moving ahead with the emergency management portion," he said. "Eventually getting some training for firefighters at the airport on actual aircraft, God forbid anything happens. It'll be nice to make sure everyone is up to speed on the training. I don't want to take too much credit. I just opened up the airport and I appreciated being involved."
Allison Egan from Berkshire Regional Planning Commission was on hand to give an update on the potential emergency shelter and generator installation at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. As far as grant money is concerned, the plan has hit a few snags but Egan sees some alternatives.
"We were looking for generator money ... we didn't know if the generators we wanted to buy qualified. We never got a clear answer from MEMA but I think we should keep our eye out there," she said. "Something that we should look at are the action grants through the state. Because Pittsfield is a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Community, they are certified, [the MVP Action grant] won't cover generators but they will cover alternative forms of energy and storage. So if you did solar panels and wanted to bring in technology to store the solar energy that's produced and use that as backup power that's an option to fund through that program. They won't fund gas or diesel generators."
Becoming an MVP Community is an extensive process of assessing a municipalities' vulnerability to and preparedness for climate change impacts. Pittsfield went through the process in 2018, which makes it eligible for the action grants. Egan said Pittsfield could apply for up to $2 million as a single community toward the emergency shelter or apply with other MVP towns for up to $5 million since it would be a regional shelter.
Thomas Grady from the sheriff's office along with Dave Buell from the state police have been working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on a new project at Tanglewood in Lenox aimed at making life safer for patrons and first responders in case of an emergency.
"It's a 360-degree visualization tool, a highly specialized camera. They literally go around and film the entire physical campus and all the interiors of the buildings," Grady said. "Then they provide a tool to the owner so they can share that with their public safety partners like police, fire, and EMS in case there is a response needed."
Grady said a fire department with this tool responding to a call at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home could pull up the entire map of the extensive grounds and focus on a specific area to figure out the best means of egress, access, evacuation, etc.
Fellow board member Lucy Britton from Berkshire Medical Center provided an update on the co-generation micro-grid project. The hospital received a grant from the state Department of Energy Resources for part of the project. The co-generation system would allow the hospital to be independently operational should there be a loss of power.
"We've been working on it for a couple of years now. They've never done it in a health-care facility in Massachusetts before. Most of them have been in colleges, where you can just turn the power off to a building to test it," Britton said. "We can't quite turn off power to the east wing, which includes our Critical Care Unit. Our testing process had to be a little different."
BMC expects to save around $500,000 in electrical costs annually as the system not only supports the facility in case of a power outage but lessens the facility's needs from the grid while operating normally. As long as there is a natural gas supply to the co-generation boiler and engine the hospital can create its own power indefinitely. A situation described by Britton as "Island Mode." BMC is the first hospital in the state to have this system.
"It's been over two years in the works but we will be up and running, hopefully, after the first week in December," Britton said.
The next regular meeting of the Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee will be Nov. 20 at the Dalton Fire Department.
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