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Duggan Finding Solutions Through Education

A combination of decades-long experience and education are helping Northampton (Mass.) Fire Chief Brian Duggan solve some of the toughest challenges facing his city and the commonwealth.

As a student at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), Duggan has applied his course work in real-world ways well before graduation.

"I’ve tried to project the value of education within the organizations that I have served," Duggan said recently while on the NPS campus. "One of the things I like to do is look for new ways to approach problems and provide value. I thought this program would provide the perfect venue to do that."

For Duggan, the program has borne immediate fruits. He coupled a grant application with a paper in his Technology for Homeland Security course to improve situational awareness and track assets during large-scale disasters.

The need for this tracking system became clear after a series of tornadoes ripped through a 39-mile swath of Massachusetts in June 2011. When a disaster overwhelmed municipalities, they sought assistance from the emergency response resources contained within the Massachusetts Fire Mobilization Plan.

Under the former model, requests for aid were managed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Duggan proposed utilizing tracking teams that could provide real-time situational awareness to the state emergency operations center and, then, forward that information to other municipal fire departments. This strategy has been incorporated into the mobilization system and was recently used successfully as teams responded to a wildfire on April 4, 2012.

"A first-come/first-serve system lacks a true definition of the context of the event," Duggan noted. "In that context (the tornadoes) there was no way to prioritize resources. So this paper focused on developing two-person situational awareness teams and coupling them with a Massachusetts Department of Fire Services technology proposal urging development of a statewide fire mobilization status tracking system. That system would be available as a display to every fire department in the state. It also has the capability of mobile computing. Situational awareness teams could look at the needs of the event and communicate back to the state emergency operations center to best determine priority and how to leverage an optimal response."

Those two programs have been enacted, Duggan said.

Another tangible benefit to Northampton was achieved through a project in the course "Critical Infrastructure: Vulnerability Analysis and Protection." In September 2009, the water plant sustained a component failure and was flooded with several feet of water, which compromised the plant for several days. His project examines risk and how to best mitigate risk within a water treatment plant that serves a local jurisdiction.

"That project examined what were the weak spots so that we could focus on how to best allocate future dollars to produce the maximum value to Northampton." Duggan said.

Finally, his thesis will analyze the pitfalls of the hierarchical Incident Command System and the nuances of that system when facing smaller incidents compared with large disasters.

A 32-year veteran of the fire service in Massachusetts, Duggan has worked in Northampton for 14 years. He holds two bachelor’s degrees as well as an MBA. Additionally, he completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., as well as the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executive in State and Local Government Education Program. He looks forward to utilizing his CHDS education to serve his community and region for years to come.

Still, he believes the educational opportunities at CHDS are unmatched in both relevance and applicability.

"I’ve been through the Harvard program and others, but nothing compares to the quality and challenge of the CHDS program," he said.