May 10, 2006
Riverhead Town's Top Secret Emergency Plan
Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hagermiller presented the board with a brand-new version of the municipality's emergency preparedness hurricane and severe storm emergency response plan. But Hagermiller said he was not allowed to release it to the public.
Hagermiller said if released the document could even prove dangerous if it should fall into the wrong hands.
Post 9/11, it's impossible to implement the plan without guarding against privacy, he added.
The reason for secrecy, said Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale, was simply security: "We're not trying to hide anything here."
But according to Bob Freeman, the head of New York State's committee on open government, it is the responsibility of the town to "go through the plan, line by line, to justify, which portions, if any, can be withheld."
Freeman acknowledges that while there is "more concern and sensitivity" requiring what kinds of records are discussed post 9/11, that is "certainly no blanket basis for denial."
Under the Freedom of Information Act, said Freeman, public officials must go through a careful review of the document to determine "which portions should be given to the public and which portions should be legally withheld. It would be contrary to the law to withhold the whole thing."
The need for the new plan was determined, said Cardinale, after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc upon millions.
This is the first time that the plan, originally created in 1996, has been updated. Therefore, the board will need to formally adopt the revised edition, said Hagermiller.
Hagermiller reported that changes were minimal, including name changes such as that of LILCO to LIPA. In addition, the fire marshal is now included in the plan and will assist Building Inspector Leroy Barnes with post-disaster inspections.
According to Hagermiller, highlights of the revised plan include three key points, including a checklist of actions that need to be taken before a storm is expected, a definition of resources available, and a list of each agency's responsibilities.
After the meeting, Cardinale said that, in fact, he would go over the plan with Hagermiller and determine what sensitive areas should be held back, after which a copy would be available to the press, and to the public.