What a difference a year makes — or does it?
Last year during Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm, much of Weston was without power for about a week. People were mad. This year, Superstorm Sandy knocked Weston for another loop, putting virtually the entire town in the dark — many for about a week. People weren’t quite as mad. Why?
A lot of it has to do with perspective. The nearby devastation in New York City and New Jersey made many pause to count their blessings. Westonites were inconvenienced; many New Yorkers and New Jersey residents lost everything.
Another contributing factor to the “this time it was better” feeling is a more profound respect for just what Mother Nature is capable of dishing out. When officials started warning about a storm brewing, most Westonites started preparing — both mentally and with emergency kits and plans — for an extended power outage. That didn’t happen so much last time. During Irene, there was a sense of disbelief that it would really be THAT bad; with the October storm, it was “it can’t happen AGAIN, can it?” This time, perhaps First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said it best the Sunday before the storm even hit: “This is Weston. We will lose power.”
But therein lies the main difference between this year and last: communication.
Town officials, especially the first selectman, the superintendent of schools, and the entire emergency operations team, did a terrific job of keeping the town informed about what to do before, during, and after the storm. CodeRed Alerts were issued twice a day (more often only when warranted) by phone, text, and email, and that information was also given to four or five local news and information outlets (including The Forum) for dissemination to as many people as possible. The alerts were concise, comforting, and addressed most of the questions people wanted answered.
The town, under the direction of the new volunteer Community Coalition, provided services that went above and beyond what should be expected of any municipality, and the availability of those services was part of the ongoing communications with residents.
Better communication also made the difference in getting CL&P to “straighten up and fly right.” In part because of Weston officials’ dogged insistence, a CL&P foreman was embedded with the Weston Emergency Operations Management team. As a result, CL&P had a much better idea of what was needed in town and was better able to deliver it.
CL&P is to be commended for securing many, many more workers before the storm hit, and that made the biggest difference. The day after the storm, there were twice as many crews in town as were here four days after last year’s storms. By the second or third day, the number of crews climbed to the 20s. By day seven, there 65 line crews, 20 tree crews and four service crews working in town.
Certainly, there are still gaps in the utility company’s lines of communication. They were not able (or perhaps just not willing) to share specifics with the public about where crews were working and where they would be going next. This was especially frustrating as power began to come back and those left without became more anxious about when their turn would come.
There are once again many lessons to be learned from this latest disaster. But it was heartening to see that some of the lessons from last year’s storms were heeded.