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Weston takes part in statewide emergency drill

power linesIf a Category 3 hurricane were to strike Weston tomorrow, how would town officials and departments handle it? Would they do anything different from what they’ve done in the past?

That was the scenario facing Weston and towns across the state in a four-day emergency preparedness drill last week.

The intent of the drill was to help towns prepare for the possibility of future storm emergencies. Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said the drill did just that.

“It was an extremely productive exercise,” she said.

Participants in the drill included relevant state agencies, utility companies (Connecticut Light and Power Company, United Illuminating, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, Charter, Cox and MetroCast), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, United Way 211, and representatives of the private sector.

“The double-barreled storms that devastated our state last summer and fall made it clear that we needed a better blueprint for coordinating a timely, effective response between all of those involved,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said in a written statement. “While we still may have work to do, this exercise is a significant step forward toward our goal of making Connecticut’s infrastructure and preparation second to none.”

One communication improvement for future storms is the utilization of Web EOC, a website created by the state for emergencies to allow towns to communicate with and receive information from the state.

Emergency management directors may request mutual aid through this site and towns may request Meals Ready to Eat and water through it, as well. Actions other towns are taking may also be viewed.

The website may be accessed through any Internet-connected device, such as a smartphone. Its use requires a password, and a security system is built into it.

Changes

Participating in the drill in Weston were members of the police department, fire department, EMS, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the public works department, health district, social services, CL&P liaison Lynn Vasquez, Town Administrator Tom Landry, and Ms. Weinstein.

The drill was led by Joe Miceli, the town’s director of emergency management, who Ms. Weinstein said did an excellent job.

“The exercise gave us a baseline had it been a real emergency. From that perspective it was good,” she said.

As a result of the drill, Ms. Weinstein said Weston is changing the location of its emergency shelter and comfort station from Weston Middle School to Weston High School. The middle school was used heavily by residents during prolonged power outages from Tropical Storm Irene and last October’s nor’easter.

There were complaints that open showers at the middle school made some residents feel uncomfortable. “The high school has nicer facilities and private showers,” Ms. Weinstein said.

The town is also going to change how storm calls are relayed to CL&P. Following a storm, the protocol has CL&P sending out patrollers to assess areas that have downed power lines and determine their priority for repair.

Ms. Weinstein said in future storms, Weston’s public works department will patrol the town and take note of power issues and report them to CL&P. “I think this will save several hours of storm restoration,” Ms. Weinstein said.

Ms. Weinstein was critical of CL&P’s slow power restoration response in Weston during the two storms, when many residents were without power for a week or more. Weston was one of the last in the state to get its electricity fully restored.

A similar situation occurred again recently, on July 26, when several hundred CL&P customers in Weston were the last to have their power restored after a brief but intense summer storm. “I was upset to find out a brush fire from a downed power line was called in to CL&P at 6:03 in the morning and it wasn’t until after I called their corporate offices at 8 that they sent someone out,” Ms. Weinstein said. “That’s too long.”

She was also concerned about communications with CL&P during the July 26 storm. Hours before the storm started, Ms. Weinstein said she got a “robo” call from CL&P saying they had spoken to all town officials about the impending storm.

Despite what was said in the “robo” call, Ms. Weinstein said she had not heard from CL&P. She said she did finally get an email from CL&P about the “impending storm” but not until after the storm had passed.

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