LEWIS — Since Tropical Storm Irene blasted the North Country a week and a half ago, a team of emergency-services professionals from California has been running Essex County's Emergency Operations Center day and night.
It's a world of constantly ringing phones, multiple workstations with computer data displays and information and maps projected on large overhead screens.
The East Bay Incident Management Team was formed several years ago to provide mutual aid for disaster coordination in the San Francisco Bay area but has since volunteered all over the country.
The group has operated the center in the County Public Safety Building in Lewis constantly since the county was wracked by flooding from the storm.
Its members will be leaving Friday, and county personnel will then staff the Emergency Operations Center.
"We would be struggling a lot, lot more if we didn't have these folks here," Operations Center Manager Patty Bashaw of Elizabethtown said Tuesday.
The group sent 16 of its members to Essex County, said Team Leader Bruce Martin, who is the Fremont, Calif., fire chief.
"We bring the process to manage an incident," Martin said. "When you have something like this, any agency can be overwhelmed. We do it all behind the scenes."
The team coordinates relief efforts that include providing food, fuel, lights, sandbags, shovels, heavy equipment, generators and manpower where needed.
The towns of Keene, Jay and Moriah were hit hard by the storm, with many roads still closed and homes and businesses destroyed.
'LIKE THE ARMY'
"The EOC is also a place where all agencies can meet," Martin said. "We have daily briefings, and then we work out the plan for the next day overnight. It's like running the Army."
He said they follow the Incident Command System, which is part of the National Incident Management System established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is the protocol used nationwide to manage disaster assistance.
The center also has representatives present from New York State Police, Essex County Sheriff's Department, State Department of Transportation, County Department of Public Works, American Red Cross, State Emergency Management Office and other agencies.
Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, a former fire chief himself, went to the Tuesday morning briefing at the Operations Center.
"It was an extremely professional group of people," Preston said. "They're really doing a good job."
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said the East Bay Incident Management Team has done an incredible job at the center.
"It's one of the best assets we could have implemented in this disaster. They are very skilled. They run ICS (Incident Command System) like it should be run. They handle everything."
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