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Pandemic-level problem-solving at central Berkshire emergency hub

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PITTSFIELD — Several front-line Berkshire agencies might have run out of protective supplies this week if not for the efforts of officials stationed at the old Second Street Jail.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, who is heading up the coronavirus relief effort, said those manning the post were in a flurry Wednesday afternoon as they worked to resupply agencies like Soldier On and the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

Acquiring and delivering protective gear for first responders and other front-line professionals takes up the brunt of their days currently, Wynn said, though he and others at the Central Berkshire Coordinating Center stand ready to pivot according to the needs of the day.

With Berkshire towns big and small clamoring for equipment, he said it was important to work together.

"We wanted to be sure we weren't competing with each other for scarce resources," he said.

The command center is also meant to streamline points of contact and cut back on duplicated efforts, so that community partners aren't contacted repeatedly by different officials throughout the county. The goal, he said: "Don't overburden the system with multiple requests."

Because things change quickly during a crisis, he said regularly assessing countywide needs is part of the operation. In emergency management terminology, the focus is "situational awareness."

"It's a technical term for: what the heck is going on right now?" Wynn said.

Answering that question starts with reaching out to community leaders, asking them about what they're facing and what resources they need to handle it.

Wynn is leading the effort in his role as deputy emergency manager for the central Berkshire towns. Police and fire chiefs in central Berkshire County staff the center on a rotating basis, and information technology specialists from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office and the Pittsfield Police Department man an IT hub at the core of the center.

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"We all gotta help out and pitch in," said Lanesborough Fire Chief Charlie Durfee, stationed at the command center on Wednesday.

The Pittsfield-based emergency management hub also communicates daily with command posts in the northern and southern Berkshires, so that the county presents a united front against the crisis. Like in gathering hand sanitizer, for instance.

"There's more hand sanitizer in there than I thought could be created," said Lenox Police Chief Stephen O'Brien, gesturing toward the storage area.

Since classes aren't in session, Wynn said his teams scooped up lab gear from the allied health programs in public schools and college classrooms. He also sent people out to stores like Carr Hardware and Home Depot to buy up their supply stocks, and received a modest shipment from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

As gear comes in, Wynn said first responders and health care staff are generally first in line, but the center does dole out supplies as individual safety concerns crop up. For example, he said the center provided some supplies to taxi drivers transporting people to the drive-thru coronavirus testing facility behind Berkshire Medical Center.

Computers, devices and wires cover the surfaces in an IT hub in the old jail's lobby. Posters listing names of public officials working for Berkshire towns plastered the walls. Staff in some of the smaller towns have been harder to reach, Wynn said, since many work part-time.

"None of this stuff was in here three weeks ago," Wynn said.

Wynn said the command center is ready to start hunting for ventilators, but Berkshire Health Systems is working their medical channels first.

"We're their backup," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-464-2859.


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