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Public safety czar urges greater regional cooperation among agencies
By Jennifer Pollack / News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005

PAXTON -- Far-reaching regional cooperation is the future of public safety in Massachusetts, particularly in regard to Homeland Security, state Secretary of Public Safety Edward Flynn said yesterday.

Flynn spoke to police and fire chiefs at the Central Massachusetts Chief of Police Association's monthly meeting, held in conjunction with the Central Region Homeland Security Advisory Council at Anna Maria College. The council also introduced its security plan to officials.

"If you want to devise a country uniquely vulnerable to terrorism, you would invent this country," Flynn said.

Placing a high premium on diversity, immigration and privacy, America faces inherent challenges to create better protection, especially when the thousands of layers of law enforcement are considered, Flynn said.

He said Massachusetts needs to learn to coordinate its efforts the way local authorities in Arlington, Va., did at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"If we don't contain and respond effectively we will have shamed our profession," he said.

The regional advisory council has five goals:

Enhance regional ability to assess risks to prevent future attacks.

Improve ability to collect and analyze key information.

Enhance coordination among public safety officials.

Improve communication ability for first responders.

Improve the region's ability to recover from a terrorist attack.

The state must now determine how to use money from the Department of Homeland Security, officials said. To prepare the state to fight terrorism, Gov. Mitt Romney divided it into five regions, each with its own advisory council. Each region has its own portion of federal money to spend on readiness; the central region has $4.4 million.

Local police and fire departments must submit grant applications to the Central Region Homeland Security Advisory Council by March 15 to obtain funds for security efforts.

Flynn said the state hopes to shape the regions into a larger scale mutual-aid program where towns help each other to respond to major events.

"It's a rare opportunity for us at this point in our careers to make a dramatic impact on public safety broadly defined," he said.

Regionalization might be hard, because, he said, "many of us historically have taken pride in our ability to do things alone or with minimal help."

By regionalizing, not every town would need to have the same equipment.

The Worcester Fire Department demonstrated this concept by bringing two new emergency response vehicles to the meeting that it acquired through federal Homeland Security grants. Worcester plans to share these with other towns in the region. Worcester Fire Chief Gerard Dio told the group one vehicle is for communications and the other contains advanced rescue equipment.

Milford Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin said regionalization is a positive step for the town. "There's no value to every little bungalow having this equipment replicated," he said.

O'Loughlin said he will look for grant money to equip and train special response teams.

Worcester Country Sheriff Guy Glodis said, "the future of public safety lies in regionalization."

"There are so many more resources when we look at it as a Central Massachusetts area rather than just a Milford area," he said.

Milford Fire Chief John Touhey said his department would be interested in increasing capabilities with new radio and communications equipment.

He said the fire department has a different challenge because there are 15 fire regions in the state. Milford is in fire district 14 and only five of the 23 towns in that fire district also belong to the central homeland security region.

"We've got to try to bridge that regional boundary and be able to communicate across that boundary," he said.
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