Newtown Responders Share Critical, Hyperlocal Tips For Hurricane Season
Newtown emergency management, ambulance, and police officials are sharing highly localized information to help better protect residents’ safety as the 2021 hurricane season arrived on June 1.
Leaders from those agencies, which also include representatives of the community’s fire departments, the health district, and emergency communications department, are looking warily toward the Atlantic as hurricane experts issued their predictions over the past week.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season; however, experts do not anticipate the historic level of storm activity seen in 2020.
Getting even more granular for 2021, a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to ten could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to five major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher) is expected. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence.
Newtown Health District and Deputy Emergency Management Director Donna Culbert told The Newtown Bee that hurricane season — part of “the charm of ever-changing New England weather” — extends through November 30. But she agreed with other responders, saying now is the time to get prepared.
“Although our local experience has given us our most severe storms later in the summer and even the fall, we know severe weather conditions don’t really follow the calendar,” Culbert said. “There are very few weeks when we shouldn’t already be on our toes for heavy rains, high winds, lightning, even high heat.”
In anticipation of hurricane season, Culbert said the emergency management team urges residents to take serious inventory of their preparedness — both their plans and their supplies. After reviewing their status, residents should make appropriate preparations to ensure personal safety and readiness, including provisions to protect pets.
Culbert and Emergency Communications Center Director Maureen Will — who is also Culbert’s fellow deputy emergency management director — say it is critically important to be informed.
“How people seek information can vary greatly,” Culbert said. “After-action review of nearly every exercise and real-world event has identified communication as an area needing improvement or expansion.”
“So please, sign up to receive communication from the Town of Newtown,” Will said, adding that being looped in to all possible municipal emergency resources is the best way to be informed when disaster strikes. “The best decisions [you can make during any emergency] are informed decisions.”
Culbert and Will recommend residents:
Register with CodeRED so you can receive CodeRED alerts from the town. Be sure to provide your cell phone number for text alerts. Register at www.newtown-ct.gov or call 203-270-4370 for assistance;
Register with Smart911 so a specific profile can be created for family members, pets, home details, etc, and the information is secure. You can do that linking through the town website. If you don’t have internet access, call Will at Newtown Emergency Communications, 203-270-4296, for assistance.
Subscribe to News and Announcements so you can receive information from the First Selectmen’s office. Sign up on the town website, www.newtown-ct.gov.
Monitor The Newtown Bee’s website, Facebook and Twitter — and any other local media you use — to stay up to date on impending weather or other emergencies. The Bee staff closely monitors municipal responders’ actions during emergencies to help inform the public as situations break.
If conditions warrant it, Will said, the town will open a shelter or other center for conveniences, providing a place for residents to rest, shower, charge electrical equipment, and/or for eating and sleeping.
“It is important that residents subscribe to the communication pathways listed above so they can receive information about if a shelter will be opened, its location, services offered, and opening/closing hours,” Culbert said.
William “Bill” Halstead is the director of emergency management, as well as chief of Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue. He said his biggest worry is that after a bad storm, some resident, good Samaritan, or pet will make contact with a downed but still live power wire — or some conducting element making contact with one, like a downed tree.
“With downed live wires, we really have no control over them, Eversource does. So obviously we need everyone to be aware of downed lines around their home or location, especially after a bog storm,” Halstead said. “On many calls we see a lot of people out walking and driving around after the fact. We’ll be on the scene of a live downed wire and we’ll see people stepping right over them.”
Even driving over downed lines could be a deadly mistake, Halstead added, saying the cable could energize the vehicle and possibly set it on fire. He also advised residents to be informed, and practice the correct use of generators — if placed too close to a home, they can fill the dwelling with deadly carbon monoxide fumes, or trigger fire response when priority calls may be drawing resources elsewhere.
Halstead also advised homeowners to properly maintain generators, and to shut generators off and let them cool down so re-fueling does not start a fire. Every house should have at least one maintained carbon monoxide detector.
Another high-risk concern Halstead shared is about the old stand-by — candles.
“People have no power, so they are lighting candles around the house,” he said, noting that unattended candles could make contact with combustible materials like curtains or table coverings.
Be Prepared, Patient
Newtown Police Department Public Information spokesperson Sgt Jeff Silver told The Newtown Bee that one of the best ways for residents to get through a bad storm safely is by being prepared and being patient.
“I know it can be frustrating and difficult to deal with being without power, or cut off from certain roadways, but emergency crews will be doing what they can to safely restore the services as quickly as possible,” the police spokesman said. “We ask that residents have patience with the crews and to try to remain calm — [they] will be working extremely long hours in harsh conditions, and they certainly do not need to be confronted by those who they are trying to help.”
Sgt Silver said in preparation, it would be a good idea for residents to familiarize themselves with alternate routes to important destinations such as work, grocery stores, and shelters. This helps to keep people from driving aimlessly, seeking alternate routes during or after a storm.
At the same time, he said, if you come across a roadway that has been closed, or has caution tape across it, please stay away.
“There may be dangers that you cannot see, and the area is closed for your protection. Emergency crews will remove the barricades or tape when it is safe to do so,” the sergeant said. “If you remove the barricade and there is still a hazard, you are putting others at risk.”
Sgt Silver said that large storms such as hurricanes affect the entire community, “and we all need to work together and support each other to get through them. Newtown is a strong community, and we just need to remember to have some patience during and after large storms so that the necessary repairs can be safely made.”
With adequate warning as a storm approaches, residents should secure their property by looking for potential physical hazards. When a storm is forecast, bring outdoor furniture, decorations, signs, and garbage cans inside; trim trees/branches; clear clogged gutters, and yard drains.
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Chief Liz Cain reminds all residents to be fully stocked with medications and other medical supplies — especially oxygen — long before a storm arrives. She said the local volunteer ambulance corps cannot distribute oxygen to a resident whose supply is empty — crews can only transport that individual to hospital.
Cain said 911 callers requiring emergency medical services could experience delays if responders are blocked — sometimes on multiple attempts — to reach the callers in distress. Working alongside police and fire crews, sometimes using shuttle vehicles like a 4x4 SUV or an even smaller rescue quad, ambulance personnel will be on scene as rapidly as possible, she added.
“During and after storms we sometimes have had to go through neighboring towns because we have to keep turning around to find ways to get to the call,” Cain said. “We’ve had some pretty horrendous rides.”
Cain joined Halstead in warning about wires, especially good Samaritans who may be using chainsaws to clear driveways or roadways for vehicle access. Halstead said trees, especially when wet, can be conductors of electricity. And Cain, recalling an untimely death last year, cautioned homeowners unfamiliar with how to safely use a saw to call for help rather than trying to use such a potentially dangerous power tool.
For those who depend on medical equipment, Cain joined Will and Culbert in advising preparedness during hurricane season — even if it means investing in a good generator.
“The most important thing is for people with chronic conditions to have the electricity they need to keep them going,” she said.
Got Health Conditions?
Culbert picked up on that thought, observing that many residents live successfully and independently with challenging health conditions and medical needs by understanding what it takes to manage them.
“Severe conditions and/or power outages can dramatically interfere with that success,” she said. “Those residents and their families should review what will be the continuity of care from existing professional assistance, whether it be the supply of medications, home delivery of essential supplies such as oxygen and/or durable medical equipment, and other specific needs. And have an up-to-date list of your prescription and non-prescription medications.”
Culbert and Will encourage residents to get to know their neighbors now so that they are not meeting for the first time in high stress post-storm situations.
Will said when and if a resident needs to call 911, “Be calm — we need your name, phone number, and exact location of the emergency. And during the storm, don’t call 911 to report a tree or wires down unless it is endangering someone’s life — call 203-426-5841, the routine line.”
“Remember, we cannot tell you when the power is coming back on,” Will said. “When Eversource or Frontier or Spectrum is coming to connect service, or when Public Works is coming to clear a road — as much as we want to give you information, we might not have it. We do appreciate the heads-up on closed roads or downed wires; we just can’t tell you when [they are] going to get fixed.”
In closing, the emergency management team provided these important numbers and contact information that should be kept handy:
*Always, if there is a life safety emergency, call 911;
*To report a power outage, call Eversource, 800-286-2000; and
*To access Connecticut’s free information and referral service, call 211 or visit www.211ct.org.
To reach the First Selectman’s office, call 203-270-4201; Emergency Management/Fire Marshal, 203-270-4370; the Health District, 203-270-4291.
“Preparedness is everyone’s responsibility,” Culbert said, echoing the input from the community’s entire emergency management team. “The town works to minimize effects of disasters through comprehensive mitigation, planning, training, and response. But residents need to do their part, as they have the best understanding of their own property, personal physical, emotional, and medical circumstances.”
Associate Editor John Voket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.