Emergency Response Gaps
Hank Investigates: Emergency Response Gaps
It could be an explosion, a fire, a bomb, a release of hazardous materials--chemical--or biohazard. That's why in drills, like this one in Cambridge, go teams practice and practice and practice so if a real terrorist attack hits, they can handle it.
- Capt. Larry Ferazani, Cambridge Fire Dept.
"We've got to protect ourselves."
To do that, this federal law requires every community have a written plan for disaster with locations of hazardous materials, an active rescue committee and a chairman in charge of the whole thing.
But as 7 news first revealed 3 years ago, many Massachusetts communities' plans were outdated or nonexistent, and this MEMA director had to admit it.
- Peter LaPorte, 1998 MEMA Director
"Someone dropped the ball."
And now our investigation finds, though communities on this list now have some level of local emergency plans, with Boston and Cambridge being state of the art, almost half the cities and town in this state still do not.
- Hank Philiipi Ryan
"What are the results to public safety is a community doesn't have a committee?"
- Capt. Larry Ferazani
"The community becomes at risk. If they don't sit down and plan for these problems we face, again they are putting their community at risk."
And now the risk may be even greater. This technical assistance bulletin just obtained by 7 news shows in 1995, the US EPA warned communities to be "well prepared" for a "deliberate chemical release", though it does say, "they remain highly improbable events."
But just four months ago, this EPA update warns local committees "the threat of terrorist incidents involving chemical and biological materials has increased" and urges committees to "consider the possibility of terrorist events."
Problem is if there's no committee, there's no one to consider anything.
Communities told 7 news that planning is expensive. In 1998, one official even said, "we just pray a lot." Now those who help train communities for disaster warn that the clock is ticking.
- Larry Ferazani
"They've been working to get everyone certified, but now we're waiting to get everyone one board."
Three years ago, the Mass Emergency Management Agency promised they would fix the problem. Today, we wanted to know why more progress has not been made, but no one at MEMA returned our repeated calls.