Municipal officials call for more regional disaster planning in wake of Irene

HARTFORD — Officials testifying on the second day of hearings on Tropical Storm Irene said more robust regional planning was needed going forward, as well as better coordination to meet the needs of the disabled.

Town leaders who spoke, however, were complimentary of Connecticut Light & Power’s response, which was in contrast to mayors and first selectmen who were highly critical of the utility in the initial hearing last week.

First Selectman Tim Griswold, R-Old Lyme, said he is part of a consortium that does regular planning around potential nuclear disasters from the Millstone Plant.

“We should spend more time planning for natural disasters,” Griswold told lawmakers and it should include representatives of land line and cell phone providers, as well as electric utilities. He said the planning statewide could be done along regions served by the Department of Emergency Management and Public Safety.

James McGaughey, executive director of the Office of Protection and Advocates for Persons with Disabilities, said there are a lot more seniors with medical needs living alone, as well as families taking care of children who in an earlier era would have been institutionalized, as well more young disabled people who are living independently.

NcGaughey said the message to this group to have three days of food and water has to be revised to a longer span, given the thousands of utility customers who did not have power for up to a week. He said if this occurred during the winter, it would have a much more serious situation in terms of reaching people.

He praised home health agencies for anticipating their clients needs, but said they also had trouble after awhile when roads remained blocked and phones were down.

McGaughey told lawmakers that there are as many as five agencies or municipal offices where the disabled can register to let first responders know they may need help, which is something that should be coordinated.

State Sen. Steven Cassano, D-Manchester, said there was a problem with getting oxygen to people as the power outages continued, even though many suppliers had given clients extra cylinders.

Nick Coscia, a worker at Northeast Utilities for 35 years, suggested ongoing education of the public, better coordination with town personnel and more staff to handle disasterss.

First Selectman Paul Roy, D-Seymour, said his tree crews workers had all the roads cleared by Monday and he had high praise for CL&P and its response, while David Roberge, the fire marshal in Old Lyme, had equal praise for the CL&P liaison with the town.

The towns were critical of the lack of coordination over fixing downed utility poles when CL&P had to wait for approval from AT&T and delays in getting ice or water, commodities made available by the state, but towns were hamstrung when they did not have the trucks needed to fetch them.

More than 1 million customers in Connecticut lost power during Tropical Storm Irene.



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