Remember Tropical Storm Irene? The two-year anniversary of the 2011 storm that knocked power out for days and downed trees, blocking roads and driveways, is Aug. 28.
The storm marked the beginning of weather-related emergencies that rocked the town. The tropical storm was followed in October 2011 by a nor’easter and a year later, in October 2012, the town had to contend with Superstorm Sandy. In both cases, the storms brought power outages and blocked roads.
The town’s emergency management team responds to these types of emergencies. The team includes Police Chief Doug Fuchs, who oversees emergency management operations; Town Health Officer Doug Hartline, R.S., who is in charge of human needs, including sheltering options, and is head of the town’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT); and Steve Schnell, the police department’s director of communications. First Selectman Natalie Ketcham is part of the team and the person who most often communicates with the public. Candy Wood is the volunteer public information officer for the team. She works directly with Ms. Ketcham.
“Getting information out is key when people need it,” said Mr. Hartline. People can better respond to the severity of an issue when they know, for instance, how long power will be out, when school will resume, etc., he said. He elaborated that if parents know school will be out for a certain number of days, they can take their families to stay with friends elsewhere.
Chief Fuchs reminds residents to sign up for ctalert.com, an emergency notification system. The state systems allows people to sign up to five devices, including cell phone numbers in Redding and at three other locations.
“It is most important to us to have the ability to communicate with the public,” said Chief Fuchs. “There is no better way than making sure all mobile devices are registered.” The strongest form of communication, he said, appears to be text messaging.
“Emergency management is all about planning,” said Chief Fuchs. “We plan to make sure that if everything fails around us, we can communicate with our officers and can dispatch for the fire departments.”
This year, he said, there was a townwide effort to upgrade generator capabilities. The police department’s generator “was undersized and not of a quality to run our equipment,” the chief said. Now the department has a generator that is sized properly to handle the needs of the department.
The Redding Community Center has a generator to run the entire building, making it accessible for use as a warming or cooling center, among other things. Town hall already had a generator.
The town’s transfer station and recycling center also has a new generator. Chief Fuchs said some of the department’s communications equipment is there. He also said debris management is “an integral part” of any storm clean-up effort and power is needed for it.
In addition to the stationary generators, the town now has a back-up generator on wheels so if any town generator fails, this generator can be used to replace it. The back-up generator also has a light tower so it can be used to illuminate the town green, for example. The generator is stored behind the police department.
“It is a redundant power source,” the chief said.
During Irene, the nor’easter and Sandy, he said, the department was without power an average of four days and had to use generators. If there was a problem with a generator, it was difficult to find a generator repair person, he said.
In addition to buying the generators, the town requested that Verizon, the service the town uses, upgrade the capabilities of its cell towers. Now Verizon’s cell towers have generator back-ups, the chief said.
“We hope the new [cell] tower at the highway department will help take some of the load in a major outage,” the chief said.
He added there are no town emergency antennas on this tower because it is not the right type of tower. The department’s existing lattice tower allows hanging all kinds of antennas; the flagpole design of the new cell tower allows for no outside antennas.
“Our tower out back [of the police department] is paramount to our communication because our radio and dispatch [police, fire and EMS] are directly connected to antennas on that tower. We don’t rely on any other sources…” Chief Fuchs said.
The town now has triple redundancy with communications, not just one in-house backup, but two, the chief said, adding the ultimate and fourth back-up is the emergency management trailer, which has its own generator.
On the fire/EMS side, Chief Fuchs said, there are main radios that are fully backed up as well as another outside system and the emergency trailer. Each firehouse also has its own communication capabilities thanks to generators, he added.
“We plan for redundancy and talk about it all the time,” said Chief Fuchs.
Ham radio system
The town is in the process of installing ham radio equipment at the highway facility. There is now a ham radio in the emergency trailer.
Mr. Hartline said there are two volunteers who are ham radio operators helping with this. After testing several locations, the highway facility was determined the best location because it is generator powered, “which is key,” Mr. Hartline said.
Ham radios are used to communicate town to town. Because of a state grant, the town is able to upgrade its ham radio system to a system most other towns have, said Mr. Hartline.
“We are in the process of getting an estimate for installation, which requires antennas, wiring, desktop space and the proper locked storage area,” he said. This is a long-term project coming to fruition, he said.
Speaking about the new generator at the Community Center, Mr. Hartline, said the building can now be used to distribute emergency supplies such as water and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) — Chief Fuchs said the town has some stored for future use — as well as used for a warming or cooling center. The building, as well as town hall, has upgraded wi-fi and serves as an information distribution center.
“The building serves as a hub of information and services,” said Mr. Hartline. “If there is anything good from previous events, it is that townspeople know what types of services will be provided, where to go for them, and to go to Barlow for showers.”
Because the Community Center has no showers, it can’t be used as a shelter, Mr. Hartline said, but the town uses Joel Barlow High School and its shower facilities when necessary.
According to Mr. Hartline, the town has an arrangement with the town of Ridgefield for Reddingites to use its regional shelter. Bethel’s regional shelter is also available to Redding residents, he said. Should these shelters fill up, most likely the town would use Barlow, where cots, etc. are stored, as its shelter, according to Mr. Hartline.
“We encourage people to be prepared themselves,” said Mr. Hartline, “and to have supplies to sustain themselves and their families for seven days or longer.”
There is a list for home emergency preparation on the town’s website — townofreddingct.org — under Emergency Services. The list includes dry goods, water, toiletries and prescription medicines, among other things.
Mr. Hartline calls on his CERT team, which has 25 active members, to distribute water, MREs and to man the showers at Barlow and even run a shelter at Barlow if necessary.
The town’s social services department also has a role during storms. Gail Schiron, director of human services, said she has an emergency contact list for senior and disabled residents. The police and fire/EMS personnel along with her do door-to-door visits when necessary. She also calls during some emergencies such as the recent heat wave to check on these residents and to remind them to drink plenty of water.
Ms. Schiron encourages family members to notify her if they remove a relative from their local home during an emergency. She also encourages people to call her at 203-938-3580 to put their names on the emergency list.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Light and Power Company has done a lot on tree management, said Chief Fuchs, especially on the line from Georgetown to Route 107 toward the Community Center. Most of the town’s buildings are on this line, including the police department, town hall and the Community Center.
“It is the backbone line for this town. When it goes, a lot of other circuits fail,” he said. It is a priority line for CL&P.
There are no immediate storms forecast for the town, but officials remind people to think ahead and be prepared. It’s what emergency management planning all about.