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Town, village prepare for emergencies

WASHINGTON — The village and town boards met at Town Hall on Dec. 5 to discuss a local law to establish a joint disaster preparedness council and a joint emergency services organization for both the town of Washington and the village of Millbrook.In 2007, Supervisor Florence Prisco asked Councilman Michael Murphy to facilitate a committee that would prepare the village and town for the worst. After four years, Murphy and his associates have revamped a joint emergency preparedness plan that cooperates with the village and town.Both the village and town have two separate emergency preparedness plans. However, this new plan will combine both municipalities and bring the plan up to date.The plan now incorporates the village and town because the state and county require those entities to have a written plan that has been approved by both municipalities.“What we are talking about here are things that we hope will never occur, but you have to have a plan in place,” Murphy said. “Think back to Oklahoma City; the attacks in New York City; New Orleans; or more recently with the catastrophe of a snowstorm in Connecticut. We are talking incidences that would require our communities to be self-sufficient for up to a 72-hour period.”The committee that worked with Murphy consisted of a handful of community members who come from various backgrounds, such as former FBI agents, doctors and veterans; all people who have dealt with emergency situations in one way or another.The committee started its work on the plan by looking at what could possibly happen in the town or village that could cause a plan of this magnitude to take place. The committee listed the possible events and ranked them, and then looked at the resources of both the town and village to evaluate when these resources will be exhausted.The group invited neighboring municipalities, such as Pleasant Valley and Amenia, to discuss what actions they would take during an emergency. The committee also talked to the local fire department, police department and EMS to understand the actions they currently take in an emergency.“We wanted to make sure we were on the same page,” Murphy said. “We were not developing a plan that was going to be an operational plan. The plan that we are going to be bringing before the Village Board and Town Board is an administrative plan.”Murphy said after incidences such as the October snowstorm, many people are now starting to blame the municipalities for a lack of preparedness. The plan being put forth will provide documentation explaining who is responsible in the event of a major emergency.The document that the committee has been working on will be the basis of the law. The law will then create an emergency council, which includes starting support groups that will help existing rescue groups, such as the fire department, police force and EMS.“There may be a need for more volunteers to help out,” Murphy said. “So in the document, there is a reference to a support system that involves some volunteers from the community stepping forward during that kind of emergency and saying, ‘I will be willing to stand on a street corner where there is no traffic light and direct traffic.’ This is beyond what the fire or police already do because minimal resources might be stretched beyond capacities.”Another option is developing a police auxiliary, not to enforce justice but to help out during an emergency.The document also calls for an emergency preparedness administrator — potentially a volunteer from the community — who would review changes that could affect the plan since it’s a living document.Murphy emphasized that the document relies on the community for the plan to work.“We are asking you to help with expertise and resources,” Murphy said. “We are using a system of outreach of memoranda of understanding (MOU). We will ask certain people in the community and businesses if they would be interested in sitting down and learning what we might need from them, and ask them to agree in writing to be part of the system if an emergency does occur.”Murphy said the committee was surprised by the amount of people from the community who stepped forward. With the memoranda of understanding, the people who do choose to step forward from the community can be compensated for any of their losses in the event of an emergency.In terms of who will run the operation during an emergency, the town supervisor will act as the chief of the council. If the supervisor is absent, the chain of administration will go to the deputy supervisor, then the village major, and then filter down to the town and village trustees. This leadership will be in effect during the 72-hour period until either the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the county comes in and become the administrators of the emergency.“We think we can respond, we think we have the resources, but some of these things are beyond our capability,” Murphy said. “By having MOUs, by having the plan in place, by having it accepted as a local law between the village and town, it might give us a little bit of edge to get that help much more quickly than if we didn’t have the plan.”The law will be presented to both the town and village boards independently for approval. Both the town and village board agreed to open a public hearing for the proposed law. The emergency preparedness plan has been consolidated into a binder that will be able to be viewed by anyone at the Town Hall.

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