LOCKPORT – An updated plan for mass evacuations in Niagara County in case of a major disaster is to be worked on at a meeting this week.
The Public Officials Emergency Planning Workshop is for county and municipal leaders to talk about planning and coordination for an updated emergency plan.
The Thursday meeting comes after the County Legislature voted last week to spend $45,000 on a contract extension for a Washington, D.C., firm helping with the updated evacuation plan.
WITT Associates was hired to update a plan to protect critical infrastructure and an emergency communications plan in case of disaster.
The original plan was drawn up in 2003 by Ecology & Environment of Lancaster.
WITT also developed a tabletop exercise simulating the use of the plan last fall that didn’t go well.
“We asked the towns and villages if they all had their evacuation plan in place and they said, ‘Oh, yes.’ And then we exercised it and they had nothing,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz told the Legislature’s Administration Committee Feb. 12.
Glatz said last week that assessment might have been overly harsh.
“Their plans weren’t updated. Their plans weren’t exercised,” he said, adding that not all towns and villages were in that category.
Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, said the evacuation plan is the last component needed for a countywide emergency management plan.
The payment to WITT Associates irked Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso and Legislator Jason A. Zona, both D-Niagara Falls.
They argued in committee that Emergency Management Director Jonathan F. Schultz ought to create the evacuation plan.
“Doesn’t Mr. Schultz have the qualifications to do this?” Virtuoso asked. “I thought one of his specialties was emergency planning.”
“He said doing this plan full time would take about three months,” replied John F. Cecula III, Schultz’s assistant.
He said the money to pay WITT will come from leftover 2010 federal homeland security aid to the county.
The tabletop simulation revealed a lot of confusion among local officials.
Cecula said, “Some of them weren’t aware of what they were supposed to do.”
Questions about evacuation routes, jurisdiction over the roads used, and who would be in charge are among the issues that would have to be hashed out, Cecula said.
Glatz said this problem has nothing to do with the county Health Department’s emergency plan, which just received a 100 percent score from Albany for the third year in a row.
The Health Department’s plan pertains to the delivery of mass immunizations if needed in a health emergency, Glatz said.