After more than 15 hours of public hearings and a plethora of complaints about how the utilities and the state responded to Tropical Storm Irene, Senate Democrats forwarded their recommendations to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday.
The recommendations range from improving public communication about outages and restoration efforts – a major complaint of citizens and town officials alike –to tree trimming, creating regional emergency response plans, and restoring power early to cellular phone towers
Democratic lawmakers also recommended requiring annual tests of municipal reverse 9-1-1 systems to notify residents of emergencies or evacuation routes. Some municipal leaders admitted they were hesitant to use it because there are no clear guidelines for when the system can be used by local officials.
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he decided to get aggressive and his town began using the reverse 9-1-1 system twice a day in order to communicate with residents, many of whom were out of power for seven days or more.
“It was probably the single most stressful week I’ve had in the 13 years I’ve been doing this,” Marconi told lawmakers during the Sept. 19 hearing.
Another recommendation lawmakers made was the creation of a list of residents in each municipality, including contact information, with urgent medical needs, such as dialysis. A process for allowing residents to opt-in on this list will be created and it “will be exempt from Freedom of Information Act,” according to the press release.
“This is particularly important for the elderly – more and more of whom live independently in their homes – who aren’t always able to adjust to adverse circumstances like power failures, property damage and road closures,” Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, said in a press release.
Aside from coming up with a list of disabled and elderly, local elected officials called on the state and utilities to communicate better. It was probably the most repeated recommendation and it topped the list lawmakers gave Malloy Tuesday.
“Require municipalities and utilities to create a communications plan addressing the time period prior to, during, and after an emergency situation,” was the top recommendation on the list.
“These are sensible recommendations based on our own first-hand experience from what we saw on the streets and also from what we heard from citizens, municipal leaders and first responders,” Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said. “I believe going forward we can avoid a lot of this miscommunication and misery if we work not bottom-up, but top-down on a regional basis to talk with the utility companies and then relay that information down through regional planning organizations, out into the town level and then into neighborhoods, streets and homes.”
Malloy’s S.T.O.R.M. task force will take the recommendations under consideration as they begin their study of how the state can better prepare for weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms.