.

Post-9/11 Plans, Tech Helped During Irene

Officials stress focus on communication, coordination, technology.

Cots. Electronic mobile roadside signs.

A mobile command center for $654,000.  A armored police and rescue vehicle for $271,968.

A police data and radio system costing $3 million. And $3 million more to support a new $28 million county communications and emergency management center in Parsippany.

Those are some of the items funded through more than $250 million in federal homeland security monies, allocated to Morris County and to surrounding counties since 2001.

Officials said that while large firefighting equipment and the mobile command center get the most attention, the key change since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is the ability to plan and train for disasters—whether man-made or natural. They said that capability was displayed during the response to Hurricane Irene.

The cots were used during the storm , said Morris County Freeholder Douglas Cabana. He is the board's liaison to the law and public safety department.

But more important than the equipment, both Cabana and Freeholder Director Bill Chegwidden said, is that it came with a new directive for regional cooperation and coordination from the smallest town to the federal government.

'Homeland Security has Evolved'

While the cots were among the least expensive items funded through the homeland security effort, Cabana said, their presence in Morris County enabled those 400 residents respite from the storm.

"It's not just the cots," Cabana said. "It's the haz-mat suits, the bioterrorism equipment."

All of the purchased items have become important, Cabana said. The county used the mobile electronic road sign in many locations to warn drivers about flooded roads, he said.

"We could have used more," Cabana said.

"Homeland security has evolved. Just like Civil Defense did in the 1950s and 1960s," he said. "At that time we went through the fallout shelters and threw out boxes and boxes of goods."

Today, he said, agencies hold numerous tabletop drills to map out strategies, bioterrorism workshops, mass casualty drills, triage drills for hospitals and first responders, and exercizes to test the ability of agencies to deliver anti-viral medications.

, where several agencies simulated their response to a coordinated series of shootings and improvised bomb threats. ().

Before 2001, Morris County developed a plan that sought to provide an adaptable framework for disaster response. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the plan was used to provide mental health counseling for county families who lost members in the attacks, or first responders, and residents.

The plan has been adapted to provide structure during multi-county, multi-jurisdictional police actions, has been employed numerous times during regional spring flooding events, and was used during Hurricane Irene.

"These are things that towns can not do by themselves," Chegwidden said.

The county's action plan has brought into the planning stages, county hospitals, utility companies, human services, all levels of government, and the business community, he said.

Paul Boudreau, president of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber worked with the county's prosecutor to develop a preparedness plan for its members. At the same time, the organization tapped the expertise of its members, such as The Witte Co. and. Marsh Inc., which provide disaster planning services for corporations worldwide, to show Morris County businesses how to develop such plans.

Boudreau said the agency has also hosted sessions with county and local health officials to inform local business owners of the chain of command at the government agencies, and to present contact information for the key personnel at each agency. That type of information is critical for the small 10 to 20 employee companies that make up the majority of the Chamber's membership, Bordreau said.

Intelligence Gathering

Morris County is one of seven counties in a federally designated Urban Area Security Initiative, or UASI, district, Chegwidden said. The area includes, besides Morris, Bergan, Essex, Union, Hudson, Middlesex and Passaic counties, and Jersey City and Newark.

Federal homeland security funds are issued for the district. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the district got $37.2 million in each year, and in 2008, received $22.2 million.

By 2004, the region had been allocated $115.3 million, federal records show.

At first a lot of the USAI money went to "hard assets," vehicles and the like, which were needed and which now are dedicated for a common purpose, said Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi.

"But in my mind, the key change has been in intelligence gathering," said Bianchi, now in his fifth year as Morris County prosecutor.

This is taking place across the seven-county UASI region and includes target hardening, he said.

Previously, the emergency management community was dominated by silos, he said. There was little communication, little information sharing, and little cooperation between levels of law enforcement and public safety entities, he said.

If anything changed after Sept. 11, Bianchi said, it was that approach.

"This is the next step," he said.

Within his own office, intelligence gathering and predictive analysis became priority activities, he said.

For local law enforcement, that means, for example, prosecutor's office analysts can tell a local police department, that "between 5 and 9 p.m. you needed to have your officers in Sector 2 in this parking lot," Bianchi said.

In larger terms, it means having all segments of the community—business, faith- based organizations, governments, schools—engaged in the process and aware of the willingness of law enforcement to meet with them and listen, he said.

"They can be our eyes and ears in the community," he said. "This is especially true of the business community. The attitude is that this is a safe community. If a community is safe, businesses gain value."

The activity in the law enforcement community fits well with the overall approach taken by emergency management, Bianchi said.

"The goal is to be active, not reactive," he said.

Where the Money Goes

In Morris County, the UASI money bought the mobile command center, and the cots and haz-mat suits. It also helped purchase a large firetruck can be used in Morris County, but Chegwidden said its main purpose is to battle a large fire at one of region's international airports.

That the firetruck is stored in Morris County, he said, is a lesson learned on Sept. 11, when fire equipment in New York was destroyed because it had been stored near Ground Zero.

The truck's large 24-inch hose can also be used to create an emergency water line, Chegwidden said.

The mobile command center has given county law enforcement agencies a tool it never had, he said.

It provides a safe, centralized place with secure communications, he said.

It was employed during a 2008 hazardous materials spill on Route 287, and during a 2008 potential hostage situation in Parsippany. .

Since Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the effort has been made to provide for better law enforcement communication systems and procedures, Cabana said.

Before the procdures could exit, new technology was needed, he said.

Focus on Communications

Starting in 2005, Morris County began knitting together a public safety data and radio system that brought into a unified network police departments from all 39 towns and the county's sheriff, prosecutor and parks police.

The county received $3 million in federal funds for that project.

The latest project supported with homeland security funds is the planned $28 million communications and emergency management center, Chegwidden said.

Besides being away to help towns to reduce police costs,   he said, the center includes features sought by federal agencies.

"This is a hardened structure," he said. The federal authorities want the building to survive.

The center also has space so that federal departments would have ace if they needed to  move in during an event, he said. There is also a secure room in case issues of national security were evident, he said.

All this adds up to the county having the physical and planning capability to respond to any disaster, Chegwidden said.

"Want to know where the money went?" he asked. "It was out there during Irene."

Joe McGovern July 31, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Damn proud to live in Morris County, and even more so of all the hard work and collaboration of the County, State, and Federal authorities!!! I was wounded in Iraq but stayed and finished 12 months,so I KNOW AND APPRECIATE ALL YOU DO!!! Joe McGovern ARMY MP

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »