Fairfield University to serve as back-up site for Town of Fairfield's emergency operations center


Image: Emergency OperationsWhen Hurricane Sandy floodwaters came within a quarter of a mile of the Town of Fairfield's Police Headquarters on Reef Road, officials realized that they better find a back-up location for their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) if it ever became inaccessible.

Enter a group of Fairfield University School of Engineering graduate students and their plan to make the Barone Campus Center (BCC) an alternative EOC site - command central for coordinating emergency services during a crisis. The plan was put to the test recently during a mock drill involving emergency personnel from the Town of Fairfield, the Fairfield University Department of Public Safety, students, and staff.

"Fairfield University has got a number of things going for it in setting up a temporary Emergency Operations Center," said student Wael Atarji who worked on the project with classmates Tarek Abouallaban, Bandar Almosa, and Michael Graham-Cornell. "We knew, for example, we have more than adequate Information Technology resources, and campus is a very important [200 feet] above sea level."

Enrolled in the Management of Technology Program, they put together a comprehensive plan to relocate the emergency center to BCC conference rooms 200, 204 and 206 as part of a Capstone course, an assignment that challenges graduating students to use all their engineering knowledge. Among their objectives were finding a backup location that is normally used for other purposes, but one that could rapidly be re-purposed as an EOC with minimal advance notice. Most importantly, the location had to be equipped, prepared and maintained at a low cost.

Months of preparation have involved the students doing a great deal of research in contacting other EOC sites in the state, and talks between Town and University officials. During the drill, stations were set up for 'Command,' 'Logistics,' 'Operations,' 'Intel,' 'Health Department,' among other areas. Throughout the two-hour exercise, officials checked wireless connectivity, phone, computer, printing and television news access. A few matters had to be addressed like the need for printers. In the event the center was moved to campus, so too would the Town's dispatch center so having open lines of communication was key.

Image: Emergency Operations"Officials verified communications with state and national stakeholders, including emergency operations personnel, emergency personnel from other communities, 411 operations, hospital emergency room contacts, and ambulance services," said Abouallaban.

Deputy Fire Chief Arthur J. Reid, who is the Town's assistant emergency manager, said the drill went smoothly. "This is a great boost to us to have this plan," Reid noted. "Fairfield University can meet our significant technology and communication needs, and there is also a campus [CO-GEN plant that produces its own power] if the electricity goes out."

In case of a crisis such as a HAZMAT situation on Interstate 95 or terrorism downtown, the campus is in an ideal location, Reid emphasized. Plus, it's on high ground in case of a hurricane, an asset in the event that we are forced to vacate our current EOC location at Police Headquarters.

Fairfield University Public Safety Director Todd Pelazza said the University and Town partnering on the EOC drill was the latest endeavor in a longtime collaboration. "This just seemed like a natural fit," said Pelazza.

Frank Ficko, associate director of public safety at Fairfield, pointed out the Town and University worked closely during Hurricanes Sandy and Irene to evacuate students from Fairfield Beach, so they share a history of meeting challenges crises present.

The project was set in motion after Dr. Harvey Hoffman, director of the Management of Technology Program, approached engineering student Kathleen Griffin, assistant to First Selectman Michael Tetreau, about Capstone students doing a task for the Town. "It's in concert with the Fairfield University Jesuit mission of service and is a win-win for everyone," said Dr. Hoffman who served as the students' mentor alongside Associate Professor Mark Ramsey.

"We wanted to contribute to the whole community," said Atarji. "This is something sustainable that helps all of us."

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 15, 2013

Vol. 45, No. 262