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Concord prepares for Hurricane Irene

Posted by Leslie Anderson  August 26, 2011 01:05 PM

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By Betsy Levinson, Globe Correspondent

Concord Fire Chief Mark Cotreau squeezed in a brief interview Hurricane Irene on Friday to talk about prepping the town for the weekend hurricane before he ran to the afternoon meeting of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

To find out how you can prepare, go to the town's website here.
“We meet twice a day now,” said Cotreau. “The EOC is charged with keeping the town safe.” He said the center was at “partial activation” as of Friday, but could be upgraded to full activation if the storm hits the town hard.

The chief outlined the drill: department heads such as the Town Manager, Public Works Director, Light Plant Director, police and fire chiefs meet in the second floor conference room, which is outfitted with redundant phone and computer systems and a TV so that the group can communicate with their departments without having to drive across town.

Fire Department Capt. Dave Curran said 15 emergency personnel from the Fire Department would be at the station for the duration of Hurricane Irene, expected to hit the Boston area on Sunday. Curran said the normal number for a shift is nine.

The increased number of responders will “live at the station,” said Curran, eating, showering and sleeping in the newly renovated station on Walden Street.

Curran said the dispatch center, normally at the police station, could be moved to the EOC at the fire station if need be, to facilitate communication. In the conference/classroom, Curran said there is a ham radio connection set up and ready to go. No one knows how much damage the town will sustain, but if cell towers and telephone wires are down, the town will still be able to communicate among departments through the EOC.

“Cell towers are not built to withstand a hurricane,” said Curran.

Cotreau said Irene “could be a substantial event,” and he’s not taking any chances. He said the meetings at the EOC could increase as the storm gets closer. He has MEMA, or the emergency management association for the state, in constant communication. He has a TV in his office which is also tied into MEMA.

“We identify issues and potential hazards and gather reports from MEMA and the national weather service,” said Cotreau of the twice-daily conferences.

“The town plans as a cohesive unit,” said Cotreau. “The EOC is our plan and respond tool.”

He said the response takes the form of “operational periods,” in the morning and afternoon.

“We always plan ahead,” he said, using the morning operational period as a guide for the afternoon one. “We identify the success rate and adjust if we need to. It is very fluid. It’s a great way to work as a team to keep the town safe.”

Cotreau outlined the “unified command model” that Concord uses, which is essentially decision-making by consensus. Town Manager Chris Whelan is the chief officer for the town, and he delegates emergency management to Cotreau, who meets with other department heads in the police, public works and light departments to draw up a response strategy.

The response does not end when the rain and wind stop either, he said. “We have a coordinated recovery,” said Cotreau. He said the recovery could take a day, a week or longer depending on the need. But the team stays in place until they wrap things up.

Betsy Levinson can be reached at

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