Isaias: Lessons Learned

Next month (November 9, 6 p.m., online), the Westport Emergency Management Team will discuss its response to Tropical Isaias.

Meanwhile, a 15-page report on the storm and its aftermath has been posted on the town website.

It’s a fascinating document. From acknowledging the unique challenges of responding to a major weather event during a pandemic, to statistics on the thousands of phone calls and incident reports that poured in to first responders, and nuggets like the importance of hiring a retired Eversource engineer (and Westport resident) to lend expertise, the report is a blueprint for what went right during the August storm.

And what did not go so well.

Several days after Isaias, this was still the scene on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

The document summarizes challenges, including staffing, technology, data and reporting, call dispatching, WiFi and charging stations.

It concludes with “Lessons Learned.” They include:

  • The importance of flexibility. For example, Westport planned for a flood event. Isaias’ damage came mainly from wind.
  • Anticipating that technology will fail. Downed wires and power outages rendered cell phones inoperable. Backup plans are always needed.
  • The importance of advertising Staples High School radio station WWPT (90.3 FM) as a resource, and reminding residents to have a radio at home — with batteries.
  • Aggressive tree pruning and removal “should be more seriously considered.”
  • Continued participation in regional emergency response drills. These simulate multiple simultaneous crises, and encourage creative solutions.
  • Nixle “is best used for short concise emergency notifications.”
  • The Police Department is acquiring more emergency signs.

Cones — not signs — confounded drivers on Post Road West. (Photo/Leah Nash)

Among the specific recommendations:

  • Developing a plan for technology failure — specifically, internet issues.
  • Improving senior-level communications and relationships with Eversource, cable and telephone utilities, and especially internet and wireless carriers.
  • Continuing to urge residents and businesses to sign up for town news, and follow the town on social media.
  • Establishing a town-wide mailing with emergency and preparedness information.
  • Establishing an annual plan for community preparedness educaiton.
  • Sending all department supervisors — not just Fire Department personnel — to national emergency training.
  • Developing a shared Excel file for tracking and coordinating road closures and downed wires, between departments.
  • Updating the Local Emergency Operation Plan, and dedicating time for all departments to train.
  • Investing in minor technical improvements to WWPT-FM.
  • Closing all Parks and Recreation facilities immediately upon advice of incoming storms, and reopening them only after each location has been deemed safe.

Click here for the full Emergency Management Team Isaias after-action report.

(The Emergency Management Team meeting on November 9 will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and broadcast on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Members of the public may submit questions and comments to webmaster@westportct.gov with the subject line “Storm Isaias After-Action Meeting” before November 9. Relevant uestions and comments received during the public comment portion of the meeting will be read aloud.)

It took a while for utility crews to arrive in Westport. The post-Isaias report recommends better communication with utilities and technology companies. (Photo/Peter Nussbaum)

4 responses to “Isaias: Lessons Learned

  1. How about moving power lines underground as repaving happens?

  2. Jonathan McClure

    I’m surprised that with all these recommendations, and the potential costs involved in implementing them, a plan for placing power and other utility wires underground has not been mentioned. I understand that the initial cost may look prohibitive, but it seems year after year the costs associated with these storms go up and up.

  3. I have wondered about this as well since the telephone poles around the downtown area (and maybe other areas) are carrying more lines than ever. Burying the lines would be helpful in storms and also look better. I realize it takes funds to do this.

  4. Superstoked that a Golden Discussion Commission is being convened to craft a Golden Bolus of Recommendations that can be pumped full of hot air and kicked from local board to local department to local official until next season, when it happens all over again. Fantasy Football for the Channel 79 set!

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