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Hurricane Sandy Tests New Operations Center

The emergency operations center, located in the Natick Police Department, was expanded after Hurricane Irene.

Town department heads and officials were stationed in the Police Department Monday, keeping constant tabs on Hurricane Sandy as it swept through town.

The men were gathered in Natick's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a technologically built-up room through which officials coordinate the town's response to emergencies.

Hurricane Sandy is the town's first opportunity to test out the center, which was improved after Hurricane Irene hit last year.

"From our perspective, we're in a better position (than we were during Hurricane Irene)," said Police Chief James Hicks. "Not only with equipment, but management-wise. The state is a lot better getting out information, as well as NStar."

The chief gestured toward rows of tables, outfitted with electrical outlets. 

"None of this was here during Irene," he said. "We had extension cords running through the room."

The EOC allows officials to coordinate responses from a central location. When a situation arises that requires a swift decision (say, the decision to open a shelter, or allocate financial and/or personnel resources), the stakeholders are all in one place. Yesterday, the fire chief, head of the Department of Public Works and deputy town administrator were among the town employees monitoring constant updates from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, checking weather forecasts and listening to dispatch calls.

A main function of the EOC yesterday was to check on impassable streets and downed wires. The center was expected to remain operational until at least this morning, police Lt. Brian Grassey said.

"We have all the decision-makers in the room," Grassey noted. "It's not a matter of making 2-3 calls. We can move forward immediately."

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