Region said to have 'leg up' when it comes to working together in emergencies

Cromwell - Emergency preparedness is one of the few areas where southeastern Connecticut municipalities forgo their fierce New England independence and actually work together, according to Waterford Police Chief Murray Pendleton.

The source of that cooperation, in part, he said, is the proximity of the Millstone nuclear power plant, which he called a foundation for the emergency response planning that can apply to everything from a school shooting to a hurricane.

So when it came networking at this Wednesday's Connecticut Emergency Management Symposium, Pendleton said the region already had a leg up.

"We've been working together for years," he said. "We're accustomed to doing things that are challenges for other parts of the state."

Pendleton joined hundreds of municipal and public safety leaders at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell for the annual event, sponsored by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and the state deparments of emergency management and homeland security, and public health.

A daylong schedule of informational sessions touched on everything from school security to the role of public health in emergencies. Exhibitors hawked the newest safety gadgets, tools and weather notification systems.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, in his address at the start of the event, said that of the 14 declared natural disasters in the state's history, five have come under his watch. Responses to those storms have steadily improved, he said.

He praised the work of emergency management leaders.

"Thank you. Thank you for what you do," Malloy said. "You decided to make it your job to keep people safe."

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, a spate of devastating storms and the recent bombing in Boston all underscored the need for improving emergency response procedures and resources, said Jim Finley, executive director of CCM.

The Newtown shooting touched off a statewide reassessment of school safety and resurrected a state-administered grant program for school infrastructure improvements.

State police Sgt. Ken Rigney and Det. Michael Grieder, members of the state Office of Counterterrorism's critical infrastructure protection unit, have visited more than 75 schools since Newtown, completing safety audits and recommending improvements.

Grieder said the biggest problems usually surround unlocked doors and lax visitor policies that fail to prevent outsiders from entering a school with relative ease. He urged school systems to contact local police for free safety assessments before spending an exorbitant amount for a consultant.

Sue Rochester Bolen, senior director of emergency services for the local Red Cross chapter, responded to the Sandy Hook shooting to set up a family assistance center and worked to disseminate information to affected families. Knowing how to coordinate responses when large groups of people are involved is one of the most challenging, and often unseen, aspects of emergency management, she said.

Bolen, joined by volunteers, said she planned to use information from the symposium, such as best sheltering practices, to help improve services.

Anthony Scalora, the state's emergency management coordinator for 43 municipalities in eastern Connecticut, said "the whole idea is to work as a team."

"The more people (and) municipalities can take care of themselves, the more work that can get done at the state level," he said.


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