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First Selectman on Southbury's Storm Response

Edelson talks about the town's response to last week's storm and the decision not to issue a Code Red.

First Selectman Ed Edelson released the following message on the short but significant storm that rampaged through the area last week, cutting power to much of Southbury and the surrounding area and prompting the National Weather Service to search for signs of a tornado.

In his message, Edelson discusses the town’s storm response, including the decision not to issue a Code Red alert.

The statement in full:

Last Tuesday's surprise storm with Hurricane Category 2 wind speeds created havoc for parts of Southbury. Although the response was good, with hindsight, we could have done better. The fact that no one, even the National Weather Service, saw this coming earlier in the day was a major factor. The first indication I had of a problem was around 8pm while presenting the “State of the Town” report at the League of Women Voters forum at the library. The library generator had already started up flawlessly, so we were not aware that all around us, people were without power nor that a major tree had fallen nearby and blocked Poverty road. However, the police station had seen the direct hit at about 6:30pm outside their window and the reported lightning strike on Union Square. The Emergency Management Director was called in as were additional police officers and the Public Works crew. Assessments began by the police who were sent out all around town to identify where the problems were. The good news was that the wind damage was isolated to a few areas. The CL&P outage map quickly showed that only about 5 towns were affected – Kent, New Milford, Bridgewater, Roxbury and Southbury. We contacted our CL&P liaison and were assured that crews were on their way. Road clearing is often contingent upon having CL&P “make safe” crews on site to make sure that the lines are de-energized before clearing begins. Given the limited area affected, we expected a fairly quick response.

Although I considered doing a Code Red when I arrived at the Emergency Operations Center, I decided against it. My thinking was that the assessments showed that the number of roads affected was limited, most people were already home and safe, the weather was good and with the crews working the night, most of the town would be back with power and open roads by morning. I decided to use our website and Facebook to provide updates. Many are also aware of the CL&P outage maps. There was a CL&P crew onsite at Union Square making good progress at restoring power to Main Street South – which was a concern from a public safety perspective. I left the EOC at midnight feeling confident that all would move ahead rapidly.

I was up at 6am and a quick look at the CL&P outage map showed that although 50% of the outage had been addressed, many were still without. I immediately took a day light driving tour. I was surprised to find Peter Road by Union Square, Route 172 (South Britain Road) and West Flatt Hill road still blocked with down trees and poles. Although our Public Works crew were ready to work through the night, the CL&P crews were not deployed as we had expected. In addition, the fierce winds had knocked some transformers to the ground where they broke open; this created the potential for a hazardous substance spill. Therefore we had to wait for the proper clean up crews. For example, although CL&P fixed the wires where the trees and poles came down on South Britain Road, it took several more hours to complete the clean-up including removing of material in dumpsters. This was a situation we had not had before and I believe it was resulted in this important road taking so long to open. (The transformer at Union Square also broke from its fall, but no hazardous materials were spilled – still its repair took a long time to start and it was the reason it was not fixed over Tuesday night.) Also remember that Route 172 is a State Road and the tree removal work is the responsibility of the State Department of Transportation.

Progress was slower than expected throughout Wednesday; this was frustrating and it was often difficult to get a clear understanding of the reasons for the delays in getting CL&P crews on scene.

We found that some of the improved coordination between the CL&P and our Public Works crews was not as good as in prior events. This needs to be addressed. When they are not coordinated, we use our resources inefficiently – and it is very frustrating to our men when they are called out and can't make progress.

On Wednesday evening, I took a tour with the regional emergency management coordinator and a National Weather Service representative. Also along for the tour was a representative of Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty. They had already toured New Milford, Bridgewater and Roxbury. They concluded, based on the ground evidence, that the wind speeds were in excess of 100 mph but that there was not sign of tornado activity. Still, 100 mph can do devastating damage as was evident along Spruce Brook Road and in many areas of the Southbury Training School.

There was a lot of excellent work by many people. I want to thank them all for their commitment to Southbury.

Ed Edelson
Ruth June 04, 2014 at 06:49 AM
Mr. Edelson's decision to NOT issue a code red because he felt that people were home safe, a limited area was affected etc. was an error in judgment. Deciding to post updates on the town web site and facebook does not help those of us without power who do not have fancy cell phones or who do not have cell service in their homes. We had absolutely no idea that Peter Road was impassable at Main Street, and this is a well used connector for many citizens and emergency vehicles as well. Until one reached Rochambeau, one did NOT know the road was impassable. There were many, many vehicles forced to turn around to retrace their route. On Wednesday there was a police officer at the Bullet Hill end of the road waving people on through, never questioning if one lived there or stating that the Peter Road end was still closed. We feel that the ball was dropped during this emergency. Let's hope in the future the response is more appropriate.
Carrie June 04, 2014 at 08:08 AM
I see Ruth's concern and I agree that a Code Red should have been sent out. I also think that everyone involved did an excellent job with the cleanup process. What I find a little disturbing is that Mr. Edelson wasn't aware for 1 & 1/2 hours of what was happening. The police department "saw a direct hit at 6:30".....during these 90 minutes, shouldn't someone have contacted the First Selectman's office or wonder why his office hasn't followed up or check in with them?
Don June 04, 2014 at 11:07 AM
I hope the town demands improvements from CL&P... I'm still harboring plenty of anger from being without power for two storms a couple years ago, each taking a week before power was restored.

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