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Franklin County aims for emergency preparedness

December 21, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

MALONE - When Franklin County went into emergency mode in advance of the anticipated approach of Superstorm Sandy, a few issues with the county's emergency preparedness became obvious.

Sandy never really struck the county, but Emergency Services Coordinator Ricky Provost wants to make some changes in case the county isn't so lucky next time.

Provost told Franklin County legislators Thursday that people involved in running the county's emergency operations center, which is now almost a decade old, held a debriefing after the threat had passed and identified several areas that could create problems.

When the EOC was built in 2003-04, the county's Emergency Services department had an agreement with Verizon to pay $5 a month to keep the same phone numbers but shut down the phone lines for the EOC until they had to be activated, Provost said. The agreement was that Verizon is supposed to switch the lines on within two hours of being notified.

But when the EOC was activated for Superstorm Sandy, it took about 48 hours to get the lines working.

"I can't tell you how many hours the communications specialist spent on the phone fighting last week to get this thing activated," Provost said. "I don't want to go through that again. That's going to really make us look bad if we there's an incident and we don't have communications in the EOC."

Since then, Provost has kept the phone lines activated to avoid a similar problem, but that costs $600 a month, and he doesn't have that money in his budget for 2013. He asked legislators what to do.

County Manager Thomas Leitz said Verizon isn't upholding its side of the agreement.

"We shouldn't be discussing spending $600 a month of county money if they were following the agreement in the first place," Leitz said.

Legislators said county Attorney Jonathan Miller should look into the agreement to see if there are anything that can be done.

Provost said he knows Essex County has a different kind of phone system and keeps its emergency lines live all the time.

The phone system at the EOC also can't transfer calls from upstairs in the regular emergency services building to the EOC downstairs. That's because when the EOC was built, it was put on a different phone system to cut cost, Provost said.

He said it should cost about $30,000 to get the whole phone system working together He expects to be able to put about $20,000 from federal Homeland Security funds into the upgrades, and hopes to find some other money for it elsewhere.

He also wants to get a central printer for the EOC, and he wants to add redundancy to the facility's Internet connectivity. The building now is only hooked up through one Internet company, but Provost said he wants to have two or three companies hooked up in case one goes down.

"We said, 'We're dead in the water if this thing goes down,'" Provost said.

Provost also wants to designate specific people in each department to be trained to help staff the EOC in the case of a long-term event where Provost's emergency personnel can't cover everything.

"So after day four and I can't go anymore, then we've got somebody that can get in there," Provost said.

He said his department can sustain itself in an emergency for two to three days, but beyond that, it would need help.

Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone, said the county is lucky it wasn't impacted by Sandy, but it's good that these issues were pointed out now.

"It's something we've got to look at," Lashomb said.



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