News

“Residents scrutinize emergency preparations” by Martin B. Cassidy

Communications, vaccinations and preparedness topped the list of
residents’ concerns at a meeting last night to outline the town’s
emergency response plans.

Speaking at a forum convened at Town Hall by the League of Women Voters
of Greenwich, First Selectman Jim Lash and a panel of safety and health
officials and representatives of Greenwich Hospital and the American Red
Cross discussed their efforts to develop response plans to terrorist
attacks and other potential catastrophes.

Lash said that while the safety and health officials are working to
address every contingency they can conceive of, there are areas where it
is hard to answer questions.

“We’re work together and discover our insufficiencies together,” Lash
said. “Of course we don’t have an answer for everything that could
happen.”

Residents asked how town officials would work together, and aired
concerns about the town’s ability to notify residents to danger, the
risk of radioactive fallout from Indian Point Energy Center, and other
hypothetical disasters.

Lash touted the town’s plan to acquire an emergency notification system
capable of contacting the town’s residents by phone with emergency
messages.

“It would be capable of calling thousands of phones per minute, leaving
emergency information,” Lash said. “When the bad thing happens you could
customize the message to the situation.”

Greenwich is awaiting a $467,000 emergency preparedness and law
enforcement grant from the state Department of Homeland Security,
Emergency Operations Management Coordinator Paul Connelly said. Other
planned acquisitions are protective equipment for emergency personnel
and live training drills and exercises.

“Isn’t the town short on generators currently?” one attendee asked.

Over several years the town will purchase high powered generators to
keep town government running amid widespread power failures and
confusion, Lash replied.

“But they cost upwards of $250,000 so in the past we haven’t bought
many,” Lash said. “But now we need them.”

Spencer Adkins, a psychologist, criticized the federal government’s
decision to limit smallpox vaccinations only to public health and
military personnel.

“I grew up in a time when people would get the vaccination,” Adkins, a
Columbia University professor, said. “Why can’t we decide for
ourselves?”

Health Director Caroline Calderone Baisley told Adkins that in the event
of a smallpox outbreak the government has a mass vaccination plan.

“You have a few days to get vaccinated after you get exposed,” Calderone
Baisley said.

Christa Hartch, a registered nurse, asked where to find the best
information to create a disaster plan for her family, and evacuation
plans if there were fallout from a terrorist attack at Indian Point.

In response to Hartch’s question Edward L. Wilds, the state’s Department
of Environmental Protection’s director of radiation said that major
fallout spreading from Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 16
miles from Greenwich, was a remote possibility, but Stephen A. Meyers ,
a physicist in the audience said the spent fuel rods stored at the site
could cause a “doomsday scenario.”

“You could have a radiation cloud traveling hundreds of miles,” Meyers
said. “There have been well-modeled studies.”

Meyers, who is advising local officials on an emergency notification
system, said that an old fashioned town-wide siren system could serve as
a back up if more high-tech methods failed.

Town officials said the siren system would be expensive, and unpopular
because of how loud it is.

Hartch said she came to the meeting trying to get a better sense of what
she can do to protect her family. A representative of the Red Cross
advised her to find information on disaster plans at her organization’s
web site, http://www.greenwich.ctredcross.org.

“I think individuals need to have a more detailed plan and get more
information from the government,” Hartch said. “I want to know what I
can do.”

Copyright (c) 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

This article originally appeared in GreenwichTime

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