Command post prepared for any contingency

New London — A second-floor room at 289 Bank St. was a hotbed of activity early and often on Saturday.

Dozens of people — fire and police officials, representatives from the FBI and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and other government and emergency management personnel — constantly filed in and out of the room.

They worked in what city officials were calling a unified area command post, a center at firefighter headquarters for managing every aspect of public safety during OpSail and Sailfest.

The room was packed with nearly 20 laptops, two large projection screens and a dry-erase board covered in notes and up-to-the-minute projections.

The post was even a center for meteorology estimates. Around noon, an official posted a weather map printed from radar that showed a storm approaching the city from the northern part of Pennsylvania.

It was a testament to city officials’ hope to be prepared for any situation.

“I would say we’ve doubled our size here today,” fire Chief Ronald Samul said in comparing the command center’s staffing to a regular Sailfest weekend. “It’s a bigger event with more people and bad weather. We need a lot of people to make sure that everybody’s safe.”

Samul estimated that about 200 public safety employees were working during OpSail and Sailfest.

Early Saturday, they responded to many calls for heat-related issues and heat exhaustion. Water stations and first aid were located at three main venues in the city — State Pier, Waterfront Park and Fort Trumbull. The command post was set up in part to give support to these three locations.

Firefighters also responded to a morning rubbish fire in the area of 300 State St. The fire started up against a building and was put out quickly, firefighters said.

Rocco Basilica, the firefighters’ union president, said that the department was close to 100 percent staffed and that many firefighters arrived for work at 7 a.m. They expected to work until around midnight.

“We’ll work until the city is clear and then we’ll do it all again tomorrow,” Basilica said.

A trip inside the command post also gave a glimpse of how officials were keeping tabs on every downtown area.

At one point, a screen with 16 different camera angles popped up. Les Shull, a deputy team leader for one incident management team, showed a reporter a view of the train tracks near Union Station.

When an 85-year-old man drove into a crowd of people during Sailfest in 2006 and injured 28, the command post saw the whole incident unfold on camera and quickly closed down traffic on nearby streets. That allowed ambulances and emergency personnel a clear pathway in and out of the area as they made their way to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Shull said.

He and others added that the planning that went into OpSail weekend was a big reason why everyone inside the command center worked so well together.

“It’s a six- to nine-month process of meetings and sitting down to see how this process will work. It’s pretty much seamless,” Shull said. “We work very well together.”


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