Newtown preparedness, emergency, utility, and health officials met Tuesday afternoon to solidify plans for both public and behind-the-scenes activities that will play out locally, as part of a statewide disaster drill simulating an imminent Category 3 hurricane, its landfall, and aftermath, July 28 through 31.
Coordinated by the state’s Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), the exercise is designed to improve communication between the state’s utility companies and state and local governments in the event of an emergency or other natural disaster. Locally, officials are using the drill to improve communication between residents and town agencies along with local water companies.
“We must always look to improve the way we respond to an emergency, so that when disaster strikes, the state’s utility companies and every level of government has a clear mission and goal,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in a release. “Storms and other emergencies are inevitable, but the more we all work together, the more we can limit the impact of those disasters, so that aid reaches those most in need of help; roads, schools, and businesses can reopen more quickly; and communities can return to normal sooner than might otherwise be possible.”
Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman added that this weekend’s drill is an important part of the state’s commitment to ensure that residents receive the timely, coordinated response they deserve when the next inevitable catastrophe hits.
“These four days will create a blueprint of how we can improve our infrastructure and preparation so that our residents never have to endure the level of hardship and frustration that they dealt with last fall,” she said.
The exercise will be segmented into two, two-day drills. Saturday (July 28) and Monday (July 30) will focus on pre-hurricane landfall, while Sunday (July 29) and Tuesday (July 31) will focus on post-landfall. Each day’s drill is designed to test a specific set of protocols. Gov Malloy and Lt Gov Wyman will participate in the Saturday and Sunday exercise.
Newtown will conduct its part of the exercise on July 30 and 31 along with the other member towns in the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO), although the town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will headquarter volunteer ham radio operators that are coordinating some aspects of regional and statewide emergency communications during all four days.
Ham Operators On Site
Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Director William Halstead said in situations where damage from a flood, tornado, or other disaster cripples established communication networks between Newtown and neighboring communities, ham operators could serve among, or as the sole providers of, radio contact during the incident and recovery process.
Those volunteers will be simulating those types of services for other towns in the region conducting their simulations on July 28 and 29.
After last year’s two storms wreaked havoc locally, cutting power and communication to thousands for days in early September and late October, a particular concern of the town’s leadership and emergency response personnel was communication with residents, according to Maureen Will, the town’s director of emergency communications and an emergency management deputy director.
“Many residents were without power and telephone; as such, receiving information about the status of their power restoration, where to get drinking water, where to shower, recharge electronic devices such as medical equipment, cellphones, computers, and what businesses were open proved to be a significant challenge,” she said in a release.
Although feedback from townspeople indicated the CodeRed automated phone calls from the first selectman were extremely helpful during the two incidents in 2011, not everyone could receive them. Part of the upcoming exercise will include using the CodeRed automated call, along with website, Facebook and Twitter services of The Newtown Bee, other local media, as well as signs, posters, and flyers throughout the community.
The local CodeRed call will be broadcast Monday at 10 am.
“We are encouraging people to make sure that they have signed up for CodeRed at www.newtown-ct.gov and on that page they will see the link,” she said. “If they haven’t signed up they will not get the call — this system is not the same as the one the Board of Ed uses.”
Other procedures that will be tested may be less apparent to residents, Ms Will stated. They will include testing alternative communication modes among response partners, readying shelters and personnel, and evaluating the needs and potential responses for vulnerable residents like those who are medically fragile, frail, or isolated.
“It is also very important at this time for residents to do their part to make plans for their own response to such an emergency or to update the plans they have already made,” Ms Will said. “Contact information for family, friends, and loved ones should be checked and updated. Know your evacuation route if you live in a flood prone area, and have supplies available for your family and pets should evacuation be necessary or if ‘shelter-in-place’ is necessary.”
Ms Will said residents will hear and see some of the town’s efforts as the exercise is conducted.
“It is important for emergency response partners to test and practice their plans periodically to learn, to improve and to be better prepared. We are hopeful that the residents will do the same and, if necessary, will seek assistance in making their plans and preparations,” she said.
United Water Company Project manager Julio Segarra, who oversees the water company’s operations in Newtown, met with officials July 24, said part of the local drill could simulate a sudden situation where the utility goes off line.
“We’ll also look to be sure our [storage tanks] are at full capacity before the drill, and determine under the scope of the drill whether we would need generators to power pumps if electricity goes down,” Mr Segarra said.
Health District Director Donna Culbert added that she will coordinate on that aspect of the drill in the event customers need to be notified regarding their water use.
Municipalities that have volunteered to participate will receive a $1,200 stipend to supplement local costs associated with the exercise. The funding was received by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) through a US Department of Energy grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
The response is a part of the Governor’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative. Overall goals of the exercise, which were based on observations and comments received from local officials following the two severe storms of 2011, include:
*Improving communications for road clearing and utility restoration: Utility company crews will be working with participating towns’ public works crews to execute a new “Make Safe” protocol that will enhance road clearance processes and communication.
*Activating local emergency operations centers (EOC): All participating towns will have key local officials and leaders meet at their local EOC to simulate preparedness, response, and recovery planning.
*Establishing coordinated emergency shelters: Municipalities will exercise five multi-jurisdictional shelters (one in each DEMHS region) across the state in an effort to test sheltering capabilities.
At Gov Malloy’s direction, state agencies are also participating fully, including a test of each agency’s Continuity of Operations plan. State officials will also support state and local emergency operations through the staffing of the state EOC, which will be activated during the exercise.
Participants in the exercise will include the relevant state agencies; the state’s municipalities and tribal nations; the Red Cross; United Way 211; utility companies (CL&P, United Illuminating, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, Charter, Cox and MetroCast); and representatives of the private sector.
Ms Culbert said that Bethel will be opening and staffing a regional shelter as part of the drill.
Materials related to the exercise and to the Governor’s Emergency Planning and Preparedness Initiative can be found at www.ct.gov/demhs. Additional information is available at the following websites:
Locally, if any resident would like further assistance, they can call the fire marshal/emergency management office at 203-270-4370.