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Nation’s homeland security experts to meet in Buffalo in 2017

We live on the border with the nation’s biggest trading partner, Canada. We are home to a massive hydropower plant. And we depend on the world’s largest inland source of fresh water.

All of which is why the Niagara Frontier makes an ideal setting for the National Homeland Security Association annual conference, which will be held here in 2017.

The convention will bring to the area as many as 1,200 homeland security professionals, emergency managers and planners, and public safety representatives from cities across the country. A big part of the event is hearing first-hand about best practices elsewhere that can be applied to all emergencies – from natural disasters to terrorism to threats from epidemics.

Officials here say they have much to share about Buffalo’s renaissance and the region’s expertise at handling snow emergencies, with lessons learned over many years that can be applied to other threats.

“We have a great story to tell about how we work day to day, about the best practices we have developed, the collaborations, the communications,” said Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., commissioner of Erie County emergency services. “How we handle snow, like last November’s storm, is an example of how we work together. There is a daily dialogue in this region with all of the partners involved in preparing for any type of emergency.”

Neaverth and Jonathan Schultz, assistant director of emergency services in Niagara County, played key roles in attracting the convention. Both are conference veterans, and Schultz sits on the board of the association.

The association’s annual conference was first held in Dallas, Texas, in 2005, and conceived as a regional information-sharing opportunity in the wake of federal security initiative grants begun after the 2001 terror attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and over Pennsylvania. The conference has grown since then into a major gathering of local, state and federal first-responders and officials involved in all aspects of public safety.

“Buffalo is a good place for the conference. We have our story to tell about snow. But It does not take an expert to see that we also have critical infrastructure – fresh water, power, bridges,” Neaverth said.

“It’s also a great opportunity to show off Buffalo,” he said.

The three-day conference is scheduled for June 6-8. This year, it is being held in Tampa Bay, Fla.

“Experience is the greatest determinant of effectiveness in counterterrorism, and a conference like this is valuable for sharing experiences among first-responders, emergency planners and others,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Higgins is the top Democrat on the Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees America’s intelligence operations. He said Buffalo makes an appropriate place for discussing homeland security given its location. Among other things, he cited the radioactive nuclear waste scheduled to cross the Peace Bridge by truck starting next year in trips from Ontario to South Carolina.

Those trips could be delayed following approval in October of a congressional bill sponsored by Higgins that will require that federal Homeland Security officials conduct a terror threat assessment on the transport of hazardous materials. He and others are concerned that the truck trips could create an inviting target for terrorists.

“Western New York’s position as an international border community makes it a fitting location for thoughtful discussion about collaboration and innovation in efforts to maintain Homeland Security,” he said.

Buffalo competed with a handful of other cities for the conference, which will be held in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Visit Buffalo Niagara helped put together the package that sealed the deal.

Patrick Kaler, president and chief executive officer of the area’s tourism organization, said the convention will result in 3,000 hotel room nights and an estimated $2 million in economic impact in the region.

“This is the perfect example of how locals with a passion for the region and a tie to a larger organization can make a huge difference in our economy by bringing their conference to Buffalo Niagara,” he said.