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Local police show their wares in Day Two of homeland security conference

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

On Day Two of the National Homeland Security Association Conference in downtown Buffalo, local police, fire and emergency response departments put some of their equipment on display in Niagara Square for guests and local residents to view.

From bomb squad robots to sound systems to fire trucks to the Erie County Sheriff's Air One helicopter, local police and first response agencies had the chance Wednesday to show off their assets to out-of-town guests and even curious local visitors.

Heather Venturo and Courtney Cornell, both visiting Buffalo from Virginia for the conference, were among those who enjoyed a tour of SkyWatch, the Buffalo Police Department's lifting observation platform. When fully raised, those inside can utilize cameras and monitor crowds from about 25 feet above, while relaying video from that vantage point to a remote center.

"They were telling us they use them for the concerts and everything else, and when Donand Trump was here (in April)," said Cornell, who originally hails from Buffalo. "It seems like a really great tool. They said they loan it out. It's really great to learn what they use this tool for."

SkyWatch is loaned to other agencies for events outside the city, including Canalfest in the City of Tonawanda.

Nearby, members of the Erie County Sheriff's Office were demonstrating their collection of four remote-control robots, including one that is just a few inches long and with two wheels and a camera mounted on its front side. The "throwbot," as Captain Bill Cranston explained, allows users to peek in potentially dangerous environments with a higher level of discretion than with larger robots.

"We can deploy that into areas for surveillance, trying to look at whether it's a suspected item, a 'suspicious package' in the bomb squad business," Cranston said. "In the SWAT world, we can take that and put it into a house and try to find out what's going on, what the people on the inside are up to, without putting our men in danger."

For local agencies, it was a chance to show off. But they're learning as much as they're showing this week.

"The show-and-tell is great because as we're seeing here today, agencies from all over the country are here," said Buffalo Police Lieutenant Jeff Rinaldo. "They see what we have and they share their experiences about different ideas and how they utilize some of their equipment."

Since the conference began on Tuesday, a common theme among officers and agencies has been preparedness for all situations. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says emergency management deals more frequently with natural disasters than terror threats. But the county's assets have them prepared for both.

"You have to think about what could be the worst-case scenario and prepare for it," said Poloncarz." Whether it's a terrorist with malice in their heart and horrible ideas in their head or, for that matter, what we've seen lately with mother nature - we never really expected seven feet of snow in three days - but now we know we can get it. We've got to be prepared for it."

The conference concludes on Thursday.



Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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