|Ref: Massachusetts governor to overhaul state's response system
| 08.27.2007 | 06:41:14 | Views: 1295 |
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2 years after Katrina, Patrick to redo Mass. emergency response
By Glen Johnson, AP Political Writer | August 25, 2007
BOSTON --Two years after Hurricane Katrina highlighted woeful emergency planning, Gov. Deval Patrick is poised to unveil a major overhaul to the state's response plan to a natural or manmade disaster.
The Massachusetts State Police will be charged with overseeing the large-scale movement of traffic and the government will make plans for three large evacuation centers across the state. A task force will also oversee 10 conferences where agencies can coordinate dealing with vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, disabled and infirm.
In addition, the governor plans to kick off a "Help Us Help You" awareness campaign next month that aims to preserve critical resources for first responders by encouraging the general public to develop personal and family emergency response plans.
The activity coincides with dwindling federal homeland security grants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Katrina's 2005 devastation of the Gulf Coast. In the federal fiscal year starting Oct. 1, Massachusetts will receive $36 million, down from $59 million just two years earlier.
"We have gotten a lot of money in the past, there's no question about it, but the state needed to be -- and now needs to be -- more guided in directing that money," Juliette Kayyem, undersecretary for homeland security, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The state's geography and fewer high profile targets places it at a lower risk for a hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack than areas such as New York, Washington, D.C., or California. But Massachusetts remains an economic, academic and historical hub, underscoring the need for robust emergency planning.
In addition, the two commercial airliners that felled the World Trade Center's twin towers on Sept. 11 were hijacked from Logan International Airport, an experience that has heightened anti-terrorism sensitivities in the state.
The risk of a manmade or natural disaster, including a possible attack on a liquefied natural gas terminal in Everett, has prompted Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and city officials to develop emergency evacuation and other response plans.
Patrick, who took office in January, wants the State Police to develop large-scale traffic plans beyond the capital city's borders. Currently piecemeal plans exist throughout the state, with no coordinating authority.
Disparate transportation agencies such as the MBTA, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Massachusetts Highway Department will also be integrated through the "Massachusetts Mobility Compact," a cooperation agreement the agencies recently signed.
Meanwhile, Katrina highlighted the need for a mass evacuation center, and the state currently plans to use the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod for that role. However, the base could be in the path of a hurricane, and the state is planning to find two additional sites inland.
Katrina also showed the lengths to which evacuees would go to save their pets, or the trauma they faced after losing them. That is prompting Massachusetts officials to include pet planning in its focus on dealing with vulnerable populations.
The rollout of the new state plan, as well as the conferences and efforts to engage in more detailed planning, will coincide with September's "National Preparedness Month."
Kayyem said: "We're doing big thinking because the big thinking empowers the local communities to think about this in smaller and more detailed ways."
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