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Nation's security experts headed to Buffalo this week

The survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing will recount the anguish of victims in mass tragedies.

Top police and fire chiefs from Dallas will analyze how a gunman managed to ambush 12 police officers, killing five.

And leaders from Orlando will describe how the nightclub shooting there  unfolded, leaving 49 people dead.

These are but a few of the people and topics that will attract nearly 1,500 police and security experts to Buffalo this week for the National Homeland Security Conference.

National and local police, firefighters, health and transit administrators will descend on the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for the largest, three-day event in the national conference's 11-year history. Grant writers and representatives from private security companies will be here, too.

They can learn how to detect homemade explosives, improve cyber security and train for bomb detonations and active shooter events.

They will swap ideas on how to protect people attending sporting events, like the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.

And the conference will offer opportunities to learn about preventing health and transportation disasters as well as finding paths to the millions of dollars in grants available to boost security.

With high-profile terrorist attacks, such as the recent bombing in Manchester, England, and the shifting priorities under a new president, participants say it's not a surprise that so many people signed up in record numbers to attend the conference, which is being held for the first time in Buffalo.

"There was a time when they dreamed of having 1,000 people," said Daniel J. Neaverth, Jr., commissioner of Erie County's Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, part of the organizing team for the national conference.

Counterterrorism experts, vendors and emergency responders around the country look at the annual event as a way to plug in to the latest national security threats, public financing for safety and to catch up with others those whose job is connected to public safety and disaster preparedness.

The conference is major networking event, said Chris Zak, program manager for Buffalo Computer Graphics. Participants connect and trade information. Vendors in security technology show off their latest products and make contact with cities all over the country looking to invest in security.

"You get to see what direction the industry is going, what the needs are for managers in these cities," said Zak, whose Blasdell-based company is one of three major sponsors for the conference this year.

Main conference sessions include:

  • An accounting of the Dallas Police ambush by interim Police Chief David Pughes and Fire Chief David Coatney. During the July ambush, Micah Xavier Johnson shot 14 police officers, killing five.
  • How Orlando's Pulse nightclub massacre unfolded, beginning with the first 911 calls.  Omar Mateen killed 49 patrons and injured many others at the gay nightclub last June.
  • Buffalo Hands-On Experience, an outdoor event showcasing Buffalo and Erie County's rescue, public safety, law enforcement and surveillance equipment, from the Erie County Sheriff's helicopter to robot bomb detectors. This Wednesday event, from 10:45 to noon, is one of the few that is open to the public. It will occupy Niagara Square.
  •  Manya Chylinski, a survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing,  will speak to the needs of victims of mass tragedies.
  • Local "soft target security" presentations by those responsible for helping to secure the pro sports team venues in Erie County.

Many  people  originally were skeptical about Buffalo as a serious contender to host the conference, which has been held in much bigger cities in prior years.

"They initially rolled their eyes," Neaverth said.

But he and others put together a proposal, promoting lower costs, regional attractions and personal commitment. Neaverth said he's one of nearly 70 volunteers who will be on hand during the conference to assist in making the conference a success.

The main conference will run from Tuesday through Thursday at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, though a variety of certification courses will be offered to first responders on Monday.

The event will also feature vendor exhibits throughout the event, which will occupy half of the main exhibition floor. The expo will be open to both conference attendees and members of the public with proper military or law enforcement ID.

The Homeland Security Conference consolidates many topics that were once broken out in separate annual conventions, Neaverth said. But to save costs and offer multi-disciplinary programs in one place, the Homeland Security Conference features different tracks, ranging from intelligence sharing, and port and transit security to grant management and emergency medical response.

Neaverth said the conference also gives the region an opportunity to showcase its successful cross-agency collaboration efforts.

"A lot of these things would never have happened pre-9/11," he said.

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