Lessons from Irene examined

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Sep. 15, 2011
Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson thanked his staff and town emergency workers for their efforts during the recovery from tropical storm Irene, which left much of the town without power for several days. Photos by Steve Smith.
Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson thanked his staff and town emergency workers for their efforts during the recovery from tropical storm Irene, which left much of the town without power for several days. Photos by Steve Smith.

Several of the town’s emergency services department heads, including Police Chief Thomas Sweeney and Civil Preparedness Director Robert Dibella, were in attendance at the Glastonbury Town Council meeting on Sept. 13, as the council praised local efforts during and after tropical storm Irene, while discussing ways things could be improved, should severe weather distress Glastonbury similarly in the future.

Council Chair Susan Karp said that the town has “an awful lot to be proud of,” was well-prepared, and responded well to the storm and subsequent power outage. “I think Glastonbury, as always, rose to the occasion,” Karp said.

State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan (R-Glastonbury) thanked Town Manager Richard Johnson and his staff. “It’s phenomenal what he did, with his team and entire crew, to get us up and about,” Srinivasan said. “He was available, and we could get a hold of him and his staff.”

On Sept. 13, Gov. Dannell Malloy announced the formation of a panel of personnel from the military, disaster relief and municipal governments, as well as the non-profit and the labor sectors, to review how tropical storm Irene was handled by the state and local governments, and utility companies.

The state legislature, Srinivasan said, is planning a public hearing with its energy and development committees, in order to gain public input. Srinivasan said he is also planning an informal open forum at the Welles-Turner Library on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. for Glastonbury residents to express concerns that he can take to the legislative panels.

“One of the things about working in Glastonbury is that when something like this comes up, you really don’t have significant worry,” said Johnson, ”because you know that the people that are in the room tonight, and others, know their jobs extremely well, know what to do, are extremely dedicated and can handle just about anything.”

Johnson said that after Irene left the area on Aug. 28, 94 percent of Glastonbury was without power - a higher percentage than after hurricane Gloria in 1985. A challenge, Johnson said, was getting information to residents who were unable to view the Internet or receive e-mail. “That’s one of the things we’re going to be looking at,” he said, “to see what other means can be used, because everybody’s so used to looking on the website.” Johnson said there will also be a debriefing session with town staff, to gain more input about what can be done better.

One concern, expressed by Councilwoman Michele Jacklin, was the funding of overtime for town employees. “Since we haven’t even headed into the winter season, where we generally see significant amount of snowfall… are we starting out behind the eight-ball, in terms of our overtime account?” she asked.

Johnson said the simple answer is “yes,” but added that the winter may or may not bring snow amounts as large as last winter, and that federal disaster relief the town may see has not yet been calculated. “We also don’t know what our FEMA reimbursement will be,” he said. “Our costs for equipment, materials and labor [for the storm] will be rolled into any potential FEMA reimbursement. If it comes to pass, it would potentially make us whole for these costs.”

A scheduled debriefing session for town staff is one of the ways Johnson said the town will better prepare for the next emergency, as will the exploration of better communications with Connecticut Light & Power.

Karp added that the town is already working with CL&P to explore ways that lines of communication can be repaired or kept open during times of emergency. “While we might not have any way to get our residents’ power on any quicker, we can certainly give them a more reasonable estimate of what might be happening,” she said.

“It was frustrating, and CL&P has acknowledged that,” Johnson said, adding that he also hopes to identify areas where the tree canopy is potentially problematic during storms.

”We need to see if there are areas that particularly contributed to our 94-percent outage, and are there steps that can reasonably be taken to correct some of those issues?” Johnson said.

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