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LAWMAKERS URGE REVIEW OF DISASTER PREPAREDNESS

In the wake of last week's terrorist attacks, the Common Council wants local disaster coordinators to review evacuation and emergency procedures in all public buildings.

Lawmakers also discussed on Tuesday the possibility of increasing penalties for individuals who make bomb threats or other false alarms in the city.

The atrocities that occurred Sept. 11 in New York City and at the Pentagon dominated Tuesday's Council session, as lawmakers considered several resolutions relating to the attacks.

The Council unanimously approved a plan that guarantees full pay to any city employees who are formally requested to assist in recovery efforts in New York City.

The resolution, introduced last week by Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio, was amended to include city employees who are reservists and are called up by the military.

"No employee who is requested to assist should have to worry about using comp time or sick time," LoTempio said.

On a related note, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello announced Tuesday that John W. Sniderhan, the city's disaster coordinator, was deployed to New York City to assist in recovery efforts. Last week, a group of Buffalo firefighters trained in dealing with hazardous materials were assisting emergency services workers in Manhattan.

The Council also wants to meet with fire officials to explore new strategies for improving evacuation and emergency procedures in public buildings. Resolution sponsor Antoine M. Thompson of the Masten District urged officials to consider several additional procedures, including the possibility of training volunteers to serve as "fire marshals," then assigning those volunteers to specific floors in public buildings.

The bill also asks the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region's largest business advocacy group, to initiate discussions with private building owners about steps that might be taken to improve emergency plans.

"We need to make sure that we have the plan and the people in place to respond to any emergencies," he said.

The resolution also raises the possibility of increasing penalties for individuals convicted of making bomb threats or other false alarms. Assistant Corporation Counsel Darryl McPherson said that while state law regulates such penalties, the city might be able to impose additional sanctions. There were numerous bomb threats made to City Hall and other local buildings last week.

In another resolution, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. called on the Police Department to consider increasing the number of bomb-sniffing dogs in its K-9 patrol. Two years ago, the 13-dog unit was reduced after officials said that labor union rules made it impossible to manage. The unit currently has one dog that is trained to detect explosives, but spokesman Lt. Larry J. Baehre said a second dog will be added to offset a recent retirement.

Baehre said law enforcement officials are convinced that two dogs are sufficient.

"Last week, we had an unprecedented number of bomb threats, which we were able to take care of without any problems," he said. "If we do get into a jam, there are many other agencies we can rely on."

But South Council Member Mary M. Martino encouraged the city look for possible grants to help restore the K-9 unit and to fund other initiatives aimed at improving public safety.

Lawmakers ended their session with a 20-minute tribute to victims in last week's attack. Council President James W. Pitts read a prayer, his voice cracking with emotion. Other lawmakers expressed pride in the fact that more than 50,000 local residents jammed Niagara Square on Sunday night for a candlelight vigil.

"It shows that this is truly a city with a heart," said Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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