With hurricane season under way, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday that the state will conduct a two-day storm preparedness drill this week directed at improving communication between utility companies and government.
Malloy said the exercise will be conducted by the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security on Thursday and Saturday. The drill will be statewide, with about 150 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities participating, as well as the state’s utility providers.
The state has seen its share of severe weather in recent years. Malloy pointed out that since he took office in 2011, the president has declared emergencies five times in Connecticut as a result of destructive storms.
“Each one of them has presented its own unique set of challenges and while we cannot be prepared for every scenario, we must consistently and constantly look to improve our ability to respond,” he said at a Tuesday press conference held in the state Emergency Operations Center.
This hurricane season could be an especially active one according to predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This week’s drill will be the second exercise the state has conducted in response to severe weather events, some of which left many Connecticut residents without power for more than a week.
Tropical Storm Irene hit the state in August 2011 and a devastating Nor’Easter blanketed the state in heavy snow a few months later. Both events knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents and left the state’s two largest electricity providers — Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating — struggling to amass resources to repair the damage. The storms also highlighted communication problems between the utilities and municipal government.
The long power outages led Malloy and the General Assembly to approve legislation creating performance standards and fines for utility companies if they fail to meet power restoration goals following a major storm.
Last October, another major storm, Hurricane Sandy hit Connecticut and other states along the eastern seaboard. At the height of that storm more than 630,000 utility customers across the state were without power.
But in that instance, Malloy said Connecticut did a better job than its neighbors in lining up additional utility resources from other regions.
“I suspect that those states have learned from those mistakes and we think there’s going to be more competition,” he said.
William Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency operations for CL&P, said both the state’s two largest electricity providers have been working with companies across the country to establish a new framework for utilities to deal with catastrophic events.
In emergencies, the new framework will take the place of the traditional mutual assistance program utility companies currently use to loan each other recovery resources like utility trucks and line crews, he said.
Quinlan said weather emergencies that cause widespread outages were becoming more common.
“Severe weather is unfortunately becoming more and more a reality. You cannot prevent outages with absolute certainty. There’s going to be some level of damage. So our goal as a utility, through investments we’re making, is to reduce the number of customers impacted, but also . . . be prepared to deliver as strong a response to the outages as we can,” he said.
Malloy called the drill the state conducted last year “a complete success.” He said many of the parties involved, including some municipal leaders, were not thrilled about participating but ultimately found the exercise helpful.
“I do think that when we are faced with a difficult situation, knowing where to go and who to talk to can make all the difference. That’s why we drill,” he said.
This year’s exercise will simulate a severe ice storm in western Connecticut. In addition to power restoration, the drill is intended to help utility and municipal crews brush up on road clearing operations. Towns will also practice setting up local operation centers and emergency shelters.
Asked why the state was preparing for an ice storm in the middle of June, Malloy said the state has practiced responding to a hurricane-type scenario in the past. He said Connecticut has seen some difficult winters and he wanted to “plan for all eventualities.”
“We take this stuff very, very seriously. I think you all know that. I think the people of Connecticut know how seriously I take this. We are going to be as well prepared as any state can be for these kinds of instances,” he said.