Brunswick well prepared for terror
In the case of a biological, chemical or nuclear attack is Bowdoin College and the Brunswick community equipped to effectively deal with such a disaster?
"Yes," Chief Gary Howard says unequivocally of the Brunswick Fire Department who is also the Town Emergency Management Director, "we have more equipment than we can deal with."
Such statements are often an abnormality around the country where many cities and towns have complained to the federal government and, specifically, the Department of Homeland Security that they do not have sufficient supplies and training needed to protect their citizens from exposure to biological or chemical agents.
The Town of Brunswick, however, has received $70,000 worth of equipment in the fall of 2002 alone. The equipment ranges from "M9 paper", which tests for biological agents to anthrax kits and decemeters, which measure radiation dosage. Outside the Fire Department building there is a Hazardous Waste Materials (HAZMAT) Unit trailer tightly filled with supplies such as decontamination tents, encapsulated suits and monitors for measuring the levels of agents in a potential victim.
Lieutenant Robert Robitaille says that much of the reason the Brunswick Fire Department is so well prepared to deal with biological and chemical agents is that their HAZMAT Unit has been in full operation for over 11 years. Four of their firemen are classified as "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-certified technicians" even before the events of September 11, 2001 ensued. "We are ahead of the game. We are one of seven original HAZMAT teams in the state."
The Brunswick HAZMAT Unit covers a region that extends far from just the town's boundaries. The span of coverage includes four of the state's counties: Sagadohoc, Lincoln, Androscoggin and the northern part of Cumberland counties.
Despite their extensive coverage, training and surplus of equipment, Brunswick Fire has had little experience with actual cases where the HAZMAT Unit was needed. "Only four times over the course of eleven years has it been used," pointed out Chief Howard.
After 9/11, though, the Department received some calls regarding possible anthrax outbreaks, which eventually turned out to be negative reports. Yet if the tests of the white powder had come out positive, "it would have been escalated to the HAZMAT Unit," Chief Howard said.
In the case of an emergency involving biological or chemical agents, the Brunswick HAZMAT Team estimates it would take them approximately thirty minutes to transport the necessary equipment and time for its set-up within a 10-mile radius of the firehouse.
The HAZMAT Team could draw upon the Bowdoin campus for assistance in the case of such an emergency. Bowdoin would be coordinated with first local, then county and then state authorities, according to Bruce Boucher, Director of Security. "We have resources they can draw upon."
Those resources are specifically the facilities that a college campus such as Bowdoin is able to offer the community in times of an emergency. "Bowdoin is one of the area's top resources if a large disaster were to occur because the campus has independent food and its own power plant," Chief Howard emphasized. He points out that on September 11, 2001, when many international and domestic flights were being rerouted, there was a plan to house many of the airline passengers in Farley Field House because of its large size and close proximity to those independent food and power resources on the campus. The plan never did come to be, but it was a closely examined possibility in which Bowdoin's facilities could have played an important role on September 11.
Bowdoin is in the stages of reviewing its emergency plans. Currently, the Security Department has five members who have been through "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Responder Training." However, the administration wants to improve the coordination of such emergency plans through its Emergency Management Team, which is composed of administration officials such as President Barry Mills and sixteen other department heads. An emergency simulation exercise was scheduled to take place this Tuesday (but was cancelled due to weather) through Maine Emergency Management Training, which Bruce Boucher says would have focused on improving sound decision-making processes that are crucial in the event of emergency.
As for the Brunswick Fire Department's readiness in the case of an attack, Chief Howard seems quite content with the department's equipment, except he is, "hoping for money for a motorized vehicle specifically for the HazMat trailer." As of now, the Department has to hook it up to another truck in order to transport the trailer.
Lieutenant Robitaille, too, has no qualms about sharing his belief in the preparedness of Brunswick's HazMat Team. "We are more prepared than any other team in the state."