- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Newtown’s first selectman says local government was overwhelmed by logistical problems in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting and is recommending the state conduct a full review of the town’s response to the December 2012 tragedy to determine what worked and what did not.

Pat Llodra and Newtown school superintendent Joseph Erardi Jr. shared their thoughts Friday with the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, which is charged with making state policy recommendations in the wake of the massacre of 20 children and six educators at the elementary school.

Llodra said Newtown’s government would have collapsed under the weight of handling donations, volunteers, mail, phone calls and media requests in the weeks following the Sandy Hook shooting if it had not received outside help.

Fairfield-based General Electric, for example, provided four executives who worked full-time for the town free of charge, some for as long as a year. Microsoft came up with a system to inventory donations, and the Adventist Community Services Disaster Response group handled the distribution of those gifts, including 65,000 teddy bears.

“It really helped us through the worst of the days and weeks and months,” she said. “As much as I’m grateful to GE, we should not expect that will be the case in a community that does not have that partnership.”

She said Newtown received more than 200,000 pieces of mail and was getting about 6,000 phone calls a week after the shooting. They had no way to vet the qualifications of the many mental-health professionals who offered help and no pre-existing plan to coordinate the distribution tens of thousands of gifts.

Four department heads and their staffs also worked full-time to deal with these issues, she said.

“The business of running the town was severely impacted,” she said.

Llodra endorsed a “One Fund” concept of establishing a single entity to receive donations in future disasters. She said problems with deciding who received the millions donated to the numerous funds set up in Newtown created “significant conflict, which I believe endures and may be a permanent fracture among some in our community.”

Llodra also said there needs to be better communication among government, law enforcement and school officials in disasters, revealing that privacy rules prevented educators from giving her the contact information for the victims’ families until two weeks after the shooting.

She also recommended that laws be passed to ensure police officers from towns providing municipal aid have legal protections and full authority to enforce the laws in the towns where they are dispatched. Currently, a police officer from one town cannot make an arrest in another town.

Erardi, who has been in charge of Newtown schools for just a few months, gave the commission recommendations that came out of a private meeting he had in July with Sandy Hook faculty.

He said those teachers would like to see a better relationships between school officials and local law enforcement “to a point where the local police know every room, every number, every door all of the time,” he said.

They also requested more meaningful and challenging emergency drills to better prepare Connecticut teachers and students for a crisis.

“This was a bold statement from a Sandy Hook faculty that struggles when they hear bells ring and struggles when they hear an (emergency) call from my office,” he said.

Commission members already have included many of the recommendations they heard from Llodra and Erardi in drafts of their report, which expected to be finalized in the next few months.

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