A full week before “Arthur” was named the first tropical storm of the 2014 hurricane season, Connecticut sharpened its readiness skills by involving virtually every community, dozens of state agencies, utilities, hospitals, and hundreds of emergency responders in a “Category 1” preparedness drill June 21 and 23.
On the morning of June 23, Newtown’s Emergency Management Director William Halstead gathered in Newtown’s Emergency Operations Center with colleagues from most of the town’s major departments — Public Works, Police, Parks and Recreation, IT, Emergency Communications, and the Health District. Two representatives from Connecticut Light & Power were also based in Newtown’s EOC during the drill.
As Governor Dannel P. Malloy ran through a briefing via mobile device, he touched base with many government agencies involved, from the Department of Correction — preparing to open thousands of beds for emergency evacuees — to Social Services, Health, Environmental, and Public Protection representatives.
Following the governor’s briefing, officials in the EOC recapped any relevant issues and returned to their Monday routine with an ear to the phone in case any crucial updates were occurring as part of the drill.
A few days later, Health District Director Donna Culbert joined Mr Halstead, who is also the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue chief, issuing a refreshed report they hope all residents and local business owners will review and use if necessary.
While the likelihood of a Category 1 hurricane making direct landfall in Newtown is remote, the possibility of a few tropical storms or winter emergencies hitting the community is much greater.
So in their report, officials urge residents to be prepared for severe weather and ask that every resident make appropriate preparations to ensure personal safety and readiness.
“[Residents] know your individual needs better than anyone else, so its important to take steps now to be prepared in the event of an emergency of any kind,” Ms Culbert stated.
Chief Halstead reassured residents that Newtown’s leadership and first responder organizations have been tested by real-life scenarios as well as exercises and drills and have improved many response capabilities.
“They are ready, willing, and able to respond. However, the town is large and emergency conditions could limit response,” Chief Halstead said. “So it is imperative residents do their part in being prepared.”
Ms Culbert said the federal website Ready.gov is an excellent resource for detailed preparedness information. Newtown publishes a more localized Be Ready booklet, which has locally relevant preparedness information.
It is posted to read, or download and print, from the Town of Newtown Emergency Management site.
Ms Culbert also advises residents to consider the following:
1. Register with CodeRED so they can receive CodeRED alerts that are provided by the town — and include a cellphone number so residents can receive the messages remotely.
2. Register with the town’s Smart911 system, so a specific profile can be created for family members, pets, home details, etc, and the information is secure, and
3. Subscribe to Newtown “News and Announcements” e-mails and texts so residents can receive info sent out from the first selectmen’s office.
4. Tune into local news and radio stations to stay up to date about impending weather or other emergencies.
5. Make sure cellphones and other mobile devices are fully charged in the event the power goes out.
In addition, local emergency preparedness officials recommend residents:
Make a kit with water, nonperishable food for three days, battery or crank-operated radio, flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, garbage bags, and other sanitation-type materials
Consider a generator. A home generator can be a great help if the power goes out. Be sure that the generator is properly installed, and vented away from the house. Never run a generator indoors.
Remember any elderly or frail neighbors to be certain they are doing ok in difficult conditions.
Be Prepared to properly care for pets in severe weather and power outage.
Make a backup plan — have a communications plan set up with your family, especially those out of the area, who may be worried about your well-being. Set up a time and method to get in touch with them to let them know your status.
Ms Culbert said it is critical residents make sure they have sufficient and safe water in the event of an emergency, particularly a power outage. And if flooding occurs, residents should be aware that they may have to disinfect their well before using it after a flood.
There is a link on the Newtown Health District’s Environmental Health webpage regarding flooding and response.
Food and Water Safety can also be a major concern during floods and hurricanes. Ms Culbert said the US Food and Drug Administration has an excellent fact sheet.
The Health District has also been working with the food service establishments to be better informed and prepared when severe weather and power outages occur, to preserve business, resources, and to stay open or reopen safely.
Many residents live successfully and independently with health conditions and medical needs by understanding what it takes to manage them. Severe conditions and/or power outage can dramatically interfere with that success.
It is important for individuals who have such needs to plan for emergencies.
Preparedness officials want these residents and their caregivers to review continuity of care from existing professional assistance, supply of medications, home delivery of essential supplies such as oxygen, durable medical equipment, and other specific needs.
A Little Help
Public Works Director Fred Hurley said, unfortunately, nobody really knows when a tree is going to fall and close a road or take down wires. But when the power goes out and residents turn on their generators, town cleanup and restoration crews are at heightened risk.
“It’s extremely important that generators be properly installed so they don’t backfeed [electrical] lines where we are working,” Mr Hurley said. “During cleanup, we have to stop to check whenever we hear generators working in the neighborhood.”
While information might be scarce in the immediate hours following a disaster or storm, Mr Hurley advises residents to not approach cleanup crews.
“These crews are trying to stay focused. And truthfully, most of the time they don’t have a lot of information on how other parts of town are doing, or when power might be restored or roads may be cleared,” he said.
During winter storms, even relatively light incidents, Mr Hurley said the biggest headache involves private plow drivers pushing snow out or back into the roadway.
“People should understand that those piles if noted, can come back to haunt you,” Mr Hurley said. “That owner could find themselves liable for the road obstruction if there is an accident.”
Mr Hurley also asks homeowners to consider cleaning leaves from storm basins around their properties.
“This was a regular chore a lot of us probably did when we were kids, and we seem to have gotten away from that,” Mr Hurley said. “But sometimes flooding can be avoided if folks help clear a few of the 9,000 storm or catch basins in town. It’s also a help shoveling out fire hydrants.”