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Town officials prepare for possibility of disasters

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Hurricane Katrina left the city of New Orleans in shambles and without a cohesive model for disaster preparedness or recovery.

In the wake of such a catastrophic disaster, communities throughout the Commonwealth are creating their own disaster recovery models in order to ensure that vital town data is preserved and municipal halls remain functioning.

In accordance with Gov. Deval Patrick's Executive order, town officials are in the process of drafting Agawam's first Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). The plan requires all department heads in Agawam to formulate their own COOPs which will be compiled into one cohesive plan for the town.

Chet Nicora, director of Emergency Management, explained that each department head much have their COOP turned into him by July 30 in order to ensure that the town's COOP is completed for review by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) on Sept. 1.

"Most communities never think about what happens if you're wiped out and how to keep [the town's operations] moving," Nicora said, adding that the COOP is vital to maintaining town operations in the event of small or large-scale disasters.

Nicora explained that in the event of a natural disaster or something as minimal as a pipe bursting, Town Hall would be moved to a specified offsite location, which would allow employees to continue their work.

Jeff Hulbert, director of Information Technology, explained that the majority of town documents such as user data, e-mail, police records and financial information have already been copied and stored at an off site location. He explained that Town Hall is equipped with a Storage Area Network, a server with 12 hard drives, that has an identical device offsite in order to replicate the data, ensuring that none is lost.

He noted that approximately 85,000 birth and death certificates and marriage licenses are currently being copied and backed up at an offsite location.

The storage of such vital data will ensure that services such as collecting revenue, paying employees and bills are maintained in the event of a disaster.

Hulbert noted that short-term data recovery such as accidentally deleting a file is also possible.

"We should never look back saying, 'I wish we'd been ready.' We should be ready," Mayor Susan Dawson said.