In the wake of the destruction caused by winter storm Alfred, regulators are looking to improve the state's response to disasters and called on Simsbury, one of the hardest hit communities in New England, to provide input.
First Selectman Mary Glassman testified on Thursday before the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to assist the agency during its storm response review, according to a release.
Following the storm, frustration grew quickly among town officials as they scrambled for assistance from Connecticut Light & Power, the National Guard, the American Red Cross, and the state Department of Transportation.
Glassman criticized the response from CL&P during her testimony and told regulators the company's failure to accurately report on restoration efforts was a hindrance to public safety.
In an interview with Simsbury Patch on Nov. 2, Glassman said "We were told additional crews were coming to Simsbury and up until today one crew was in town. That indicates something is clearly wrong. Resources are not being devoted to restore the lines."
Thirteen days passed before power was restored to 100 percent of Simsbury residents and businesses, the release said.
“CL&P’s inability to provide reliable estimates of restoration times had a material adverse impact on the town’s ability to protect the health and safety of town residents," Glassman said in her testimony. It was apparent to Town Officials that CL&P’s restoration estimates were unattainable, which left the Town of Simsbury in a virtual information vacuum with respect to scheduling its shelter operations and caring for elderly and disabled residents.”
As President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Glassman presented the following storm response recommendations to PURA:
- Strengthen real-time communication between individual municipal officials and their corresponding CL&P and town recovery crews (utility crew supervisors, tree removal crews, local Public Works and utility line crews).
- Establish a “strike team” model of communication that (a) deploys restoration assets (the various field crews) and outlines a definitive chain-of-command within the field, (b) equips designated leaders in the field with adequate communication capabilities (including two-way radios), and (c) conducts regularly scheduled reports directly to local officials.
- Improve the collection and dissemination of local utility data, possibly via GPS mapping capabilities (i.e., the location of major circuits/substations in relation to local priority restoration points – correlated with specific causes and locations of power outages).
Glassman told regulators CL&P "failed to provide any accurate, timely information as to when CL&P crews would be assigned to work with town public works crews on the town’s top priority: make safe operations."
Additionally CL&P provided no systematic way for Simsbury to determine which streets had power restored and which remained without power, according to the release. Because of the large number of impassable roads and the absence of meaningful support from CL&P, the town eventually received help from the National Guard beginning on November 3, 2011. Some 40 streets remained inaccessible to emergency vehicles at that time.
“Clearing roads of downed lines so that emergency vehicles could pass requires coordination between our public works crews and utility crews. Our crews received no information as to when, where or how many CL&P crews would be available in our town to conduct make safe operations. The lack of such information exacerbated an already-dangerous public safety issue,” Glassman said.