The Public Safety Committee held a public meeting on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:30 P.M. in the conference room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the city's plan to deal with natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
Present at the meeting were Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Committee, Gerard Mahoney, Director of Emergency Management and Deputy Fire Chief, Steven Williams, Superintendent of Police, Joseph L. Wilson, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Dan Riviello, Communications Specialist, Police Department, George Fosque, Director, Emergency Communications, Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health, Cambridge Health Department, Lynn Schoeff, Director of Community Health, Cambridge Health Department, Lisa Peterson, Commissioner, Public Works, John Nardone, Assistant Commissioner of Operations, Public Works, Owen O'Riordan, City Engineer, Ellen Semonoff, Assistant City Manager for Human Services, Sue Clippinger, Director, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Muna Kangsen, Aide to Councillor Simmons and Deputy City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.
Also present were John DiFava, Chief of Police, MIT, Bill VanSchalkwyk, Managing Director of Environment, Health and Safety Programs, MIT, David M. Barber, Emergency and Business Continuity Planner, MIT and Tassy Bazille, Cambridge resident.
Councillor Simmons convened the meeting and explained the purpose. Recent events have brought up questions about natural disasters. She has received calls from senior citizens and each wanted to know the city's approach to natural disasters.
At this time Deputy Fire Chief Mahoney read a prepared statement (ATTACHMENT A). He is notified of large weather events from MEMA and sends this information to his list of large city departments. City officials attended National Incident Manager System (NIMS) training. CODE RED was installed to notify residents of emergency events. CODE RED was used during Hurricane Irene. State information was transmitted by him to local officials. Emergency plans are developed on an on-going basis. The Fire, Police, Public Works and Health Department are all capable of responding to natural disasters. Major media outlets were also notified of the city's plan for Hurricane Irene.
Dan Riviello, Communications Specialist, Police Department, stated that CODE RED is Cambridge's new alert system. He distributed information about communication efforts taken by the City for Hurricane Irene (ATTACHMENT B). There are three alert systems that include crime updates. E-Line sends snow emergency/street cleaning information. The newest system, CODE RED makes automated phone calls during emergency situations. There were 23,000 land line connections made during Hurricane Irene. CODE RED has had a promotional push. CODE RED flyers will be mailed with the water bills. He encouraged people to sign up for CODE RED. Cell phone numbers are needed to make the system effective. Councillor Simmons asked where the "help" desk to sign up for CODE RED is. She asked if the Senior Center and the building managers for elderly housing get this information. Mr. Riviello stated that better education about this program is needed for this population. The police department provides service for signing up. Councillor Simmons stressed making sure that those who need system the most get assistance and information. Superintendent Williams stated that the police department meets constantly with the Cambridge Housing Authority. He is in contact with Mr. Degou, Public Safety Administrator for the Cambridge Housing Authority.
Councillor Simmons asked if churches and organization are contacted about CODE RED. Mr. Riviello stated that churches and organizations are encouraged to sign up. Any telephone number can be added to the CODE RED system as long as it is tied to a Cambridge address. Mr. Nardone added that land lines will be notified. Mr. Fosque encouraged cell phone numbers be given for sign up for CODE RED as well as informing friends, family and neighbors about the new system. He stated that a church could be called about an emergency on Monday and no one is at the church. Councillor Simmons stated that she will make sure that the clergy is notified of this information. You go on-line, enter cell phone and receive an immediate message.
Councillor Simmons asked what happens if something unexpected happens. Mr. Mahoney explained what happened in the 2007 storm. The government urged businesses to let their employees go home early and this action caused gridlock. The Superintendent of Schools needs to follow weather because closing schools is under the jurisdiction of the Superintendent of Schools. There are a lot of issues to consider when closing school including transportation and child care. Ms. Schoeff stated that she works with School Department on Emergency Management. The superintendent will make the decision whether to keep students in school or to release them. The school has an e-mail system. Communications go out to parents immediately. Commissioner Peterson added that during snow events Public Works notifies the Superintendent of Schools and the best decision on the school issue is made. If school is cancelled the youth centers and day care centers are opened. Weather can change course and then you rely on the plans made. Mr. Nardone commented that with Hurricane Irene Public Works planned five days in advance of this storm. Superintendent Williams added that the Police Department was prepared for Hurricane Irene for both wind and/or rain. Mr. Fosque stated that 349-3300 is used for issues like the traffic ban; another telephone number is assigned to be used so that 911 is not used incorrectly.
Councillor Simmons asked how well does this message get out to the public. She wanted to look at this from an individual perspective. Mr. Fosque stated that Emergency Communications puts out on CODE RED the alternate phone number. Councillor Simmons inquired if this information could be added to the CODE RED flyer. Ms. Schoeff informed the committee that the Emergency Preparedness Brochure includes this telephone number.
Councillor Simmons asked how the universities interact with the City. Mr. VanSchalkwyk, MIT, stated that alerts come to us and are sent out on the MIT alert. All methods of communication are used to alert the students, families and vendors. Families can sign up to get the alerts. Superintendent Williams stated that MIT and Harvard University participate in the emergency preparedness training.
Councillor Simmons asked if you cannot use your phone what happens. Mr. Fosque responded pull the red emergency box. In the event that cell phones and land lines are not working how is information transmitted to the public. Bull horns are used by Police and Fire Departments. Mr. Lipson added that the broadcast media is utilized. Mr. Mahoney said if you require help pull the red call box and help will come.
What is done with animals in the event of evacuation asked Councillor Simmons? Pet sheltering is a delicate situation commented Mr. Mahoney. Pets cannot be brought to a shelter if it will upset the shelter residents. Councillor Simmons stated that some people will not leave their home without their pet. Mr. Mahoney stated that there is pet shelter cages were pets can be put outside of shelter. There are two shelters in the city. Of the eight residents in the shelter seven are homeless and one is elderly.
Councillor Simmons asked if outreach should be done to the housing managers. A broad education on Emergency Preparedness is good commented Mr. Mahoney. Incidents present so many variables that decisions are made through incident command. Ms. Semonoff stated that the shelters are not the most comfortable place. Have a nurse in a shelter is important.
Councillor Simmons asked how we better reach out to the senior housing developments. The senior housing developments house seniors as well as multi-mix of tenants who also need to be notified. She stated she would hold a subsequent meeting and invite the managers of senior buildings and provide this information to them. Other issues of concern are the information being multi-lingual and do property management companies get the information. CASCAP and Winn Development need to have this information also. Superintendent Williams informed the committee that the police department communicates with the Cadbury Commons.
Councillor Simmons opened the meeting to public comment. No one appeared.
Councillor Simmons thanked all those present for their attendance.
The meeting adjourned at 6:25 P.M.
For the Committee,
Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair
Public Safety Committee