Depts. coordinate efforts on anthrax

During her visit to the New Haven Emergency Management Office Monday, Conn. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro emphasized the importance of community safety to the law enforcement officials on hand.

“The people need to be assured that if something happens, then our cities and our state are ready,” DeLauro said. “We need to reassure people that there are systems in place that can meet the kinds of challenges that we are having now to face.”

DeLauro went to the New Haven anthrax command post center for a tour and a briefing on the center’s preparations. She was joined at the center by officials from New Haven’s police and fire departments, the Coast Guard and the Department of Environmental Protection.

In response to requests for increased funding by local and national agencies, DeLauro spoke of a new proposal which would allocate $1.5 billion toward funding local governments for training, strategic planning and response to emergencies.

James Moore Jr., the deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management, said the most important job for the center is disaster planning for the city.

“We have been planning for years for hazardous chemical incidents based on the commercial entities in the city, the railroad, and, most importantly, the harbor,” Moore said. “We have even planned for anthrax. Now, in the light of what has happened, it is really a question of changing the scale of what we plan to do and what we are prepared to do.”

Officials at the center said there has been an increase in the number of calls from New Haven residents regarding suspicious packages in the past few weeks. Lt. Andrew Campion, the supervisor of the Department of Fire Services Emergency Communications, said that once the 911 center receives a call, it is triaged and then put through to both police and fire department personnel.

“There is a good relationship between the New Haven Police Department and the FBI, and also with the other state agencies,” Campion said. “If there is a health problem, the fire department is in charge. If it is more criminal, then it is the police department.”

Campion said if a substance is suspected to be anthrax, a sample is taken and is tested on-site. The state Department of Environmental Protection then conducts further tests to determine the composition of the substance.

Though every anthrax scare in New Haven has so far proved benign, Fire Department Chief Dennis Daniels said the center takes each call seriously.

“We are certified at the technician level and are presently in the process of training our individuals so that they can go right to the scene and make our own removal,” Daniels said.

The Yale Police Department is also taking an active role in ensuring community safety. The department is currently working with city and state departments for emergency planning.

“We are fully prepared to handle anything,” said Sgt. Joe Vitale, the communications coordinator with the Yale Police Department.

Moore said the most important thing residents can do is to use their common sense.

“Call the police — we are here to help you,” Moore said. “And go about life normally. These threats were always present, though not to this extent. Life goes on.”

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