|By Erin O'Connor|
AGAWAM On September 5, the Agawam City Council voted 11 to 0 in agreement for Mayor Richard Cohen to sign off on an intergovernmental Mutual Aid Agreement (MAA) that honors the included cities in an agreement for aid to each other in times of emergency although the aid is voluntary.
"I forwarded this item to the City Council and asked them to request my authorization," Cohen said to Reminder Publications. "This will broaden the scope for services."
The Agreement was sent to Cohen by the Western Massachusetts Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council (WMRHSAC). It has been offered to the 101 communities in western Massachusetts that the Council services.
The MAA covers the provision of services that include staffing, equipment and materials as provided by the Board of Health, the Department of Public Works or Highway Department and general administrative services. It does not replace or alter existing agreements for police and fire. It states that the provision of mutual aid is always entirely voluntary.
"This is a new initiative that the Council has taken on," Catherine Miller of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission said. "It is something that happens within most communities anyway, most communities help each other out in the event of a disaster."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires a written Mutual Aid Agreement to assure reimbursement for expenses incurred in the provision and/or receipt of mutual aid.
"The agreements are taking care of the bureaucratic aspect," Miller said.
"In general what has happened is that after Hurricane Katrina the federal government is telling cities and towns that you better be prepared because it will be at least three to five days before you get outside help, from the Federal Branch and the National Guard," Chester Nikora the director for the Office of Emergency Management for the town of Agawam said.
"The state has been receiving money for the last two years when Governor Mitt Romney decided to create regional councils," Miller said. "It changed the status quo because it shifted responses from being directed at municipalities or state levels to ones of regional concern."
Miller sited that there is current legislation in Massachusetts Congress that would propose a state formation of mutual aid agreements.
"If this happens then our job will be a lot easier but we are pushing these agreements forward now because that is what MEMA wants and what they are telling us to do," Miller said.
The State Bill on Mutual Aid resides currently within the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee in Massachusetts Congress.
"If passed it will incorporate the 351 communities within the Commonwealth into a mutual agreement for aid in emergency situations unless a community opts out of the agreement," Miller said.