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Fall Storm Has Me Thundering Mad

It seems Wilton hasn’t yet learned the lessons that Tropical Storm Irene taught us.

Today is Halloween, but it’s not the holiday that has turned me into a witch. What has me riled up is how poorly Wilton seems to have weathered .

I write this column at a point on Sunday afternoon that 78 percent of the town’s residents are still without power.

And yet it took until 2 p.m. Sunday for any information to be posted on the town’s website, or for communication to reach residents desperate to know what the town was doing to help. It wasn’t until 24 hours after the start of the storm for town officials to start to let Wiltonites know what the plan was.

Were warming shelters open to house residents without heat or power? Were roads closed due to downed wires and trees? Had coordination with Connecticut Light & Power begun? Were there restoration estimates?

I understand that emergency resources during an unexpected October storm are devoted to immediate emergency needs—what roads need to be kept plowed and cleared? Are there medical emergencies and public safety situations requiring direct fire and police attention? How do town services get coordinated to keep Wilton residents safe?

However, one of the key things town officials heard from residents in the days following Irene was this: During emergency situations we need better communication from the town.

It’s a crucial part of what residents need to see happening in order to feel that the town is meeting their disaster preparedness needs. They expressed this at a community forum that town officials held post-Irene but it seems we haven’t caught up to what other towns are doing. Citizens continue to express it on Patch forums and anecdotally elsewhere, through word of mouth and on Facebook—some friends remarked how they received no calls from the town even though they were signed up for alerts; one posted his frustration at hearing “nothing but crickets from Town Hall.”

For 24 hours our town website displayed nothing but a pre-storm warning from CT Gov. Dannel Malloy. It linked to a page that said the following: “In the event of an emergency, this page will contain up to the minute information.” As of midday Sunday that only included a winter storm watch in effect for Saturday with projections for snowfall. Already 24 hours beyond the start of the storm, that info had become useless by then—and it certainly wasn’t up-to-the-minute.

In an age of social media and immediate communication, look at what other towns around us have made standard procedure: New Canaan and Weston have Facebook pages with rapid-fire updates and information. Ridgefield’s First Selectman made robo calls and sent emails during Saturday’s storm height, and information was more readily available to the local media in that town.

Two other things I was impressed to learn about New Canaan: One was that they ran robo calls from their Emergency Management team similar to Wilton’s Code Red system; but theirs is interactive—residents could hit a button on their phone during the call that would tell emergency responders if they needed assistance or shelter.

The other was that they had a Google map of New Canaan showing real-time updates of downed wires and fallen trees. This page was up and active Sunday morning.

What would it take to start a Wilton town Facebook page, when a large portion of town residents utilize the social media outlet as a prime means to find information these days? What will it take to upgrade the ability to communicate—or simply utilize our existing communication tools earlier—in an age of communication?

Using social media properly actually involves making the residents an active part of building the network of people involved in disaster response. An interactive page, like on Facebook, would allow residents to communicate with each other about “unplugged” senior citizens in need of assistance or where there were downed wires or blown transformers. This might increase the ability of emergency responders and unite the community in helping one another.

It would let the residents be part of the solution, and help Wilton take that next necessary step forward.

Even with less “modern” modes of communication, Wilton dropped the ball:  On Sunday, I called town hall and got an answering machine. There wasn’t even a special message on that answering machine directing people what to do in the aftermath of the storm.

This communication issue is more than just one of ‘inconvenience.’ It’s a safety issue as well when you look at sheltering those without power, or for residents trying to navigate roads blocked by trees and wires. For residents looking for real-time information on outages or disaster response, there are reasonable communication measures that could be adopted.

We knew this storm was coming. There was time between Irene and now to prepare better than this.

By late afternoon Sunday, information was much more complete on town websites, and robo calls from First Selectman Bill Brennan had much more thorough data about what residents could do and what we could expect in the coming days for power restoration and CL&P crews on the ground.

I sense I'm not alone in wishing that we'd had that response happen earlier.

Knowing that we’re in for a long, cold winter, is a simple Wilton Facebook page a great next step?

Del Dridle November 06, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Hey... Did you get a famous Brennan letter telling you how good of a job he and his team were doing.. It should read similar to the Irene letter.... Bill just dusted it off and polished it up for this storm... Expect the exact same line for the next outage.... He's great at letter writing...What a joke...
Pats November 12, 2011 at 12:03 PM
This forum is full of losers and babies. We are from Wisconsin. Snow begins in September. Our hometown is poor. You don't see four wheel drives, McMansions and certainly, the local government is on a much smaller scale. AND PEOPLE FIGURE IT OUT. It snows? shovel. Trees come down? chain saw. No power? a fire and sweaters. Awe, kids out of school and bored? do i even need to respond. I'm really, really stuck on this one: What in the world did those living here in the 1800s do? They must have been pretty pissed when CL and P, or their first selectmen didn't update twitter in 24 hours when the major snow storm of 1889 hit. Wilton does need more liquor. It's clear that any of the complainers above really need to sit for a minute, AND DRINK A BEER. Then, turn on the TV and watch some coverage of Turkey's earthquake recovery. Please, then, think if you need to come comment on some lame forum.
Mary Aly November 12, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Amen, Pat, Amen. Regardless of whether or not we have a state of the art town wide communication system, we won't get power back faster. So what, praytell, is this drama about? AND even if we did have a town Facebook page, it only works for folks with 4G coverage as long as their phones stay charged. Here is the solution: we hire out of work actors, preferably petite males, to dress in kelly green elf outfits with boots with pointy toes and jingles on them. Then, when we have a storm, they can go from door to door and say things like, "Bill Brennan is having coffee and hoping to hear from the ...." and "Sharon is making Jiffy Pop over her fireplace..." OR maybe the 4G folks could be battery operated shimmery stars on their house and we could go to them in a storm, like mecca, for updates and inspirations and, well, maybe even cookies. Pat? Next storm, let's get together and play boggle or Scrabble and make burgers on the grill. What say you?
Michael Perrella November 12, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Could not have said it better myself. There is a mentality found not only in Wilton but in all corners of the USA, "That how dare my comfort and ease be disturbed and if it is, it's someone elses fault and that someone must correct the situation". The frightning fact is that this Me, Me attitude may very well be passed on to their children. Get off your butts, act like adults and get on with it.
wilton42 June 19, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Hopefully everyone is participating in hurricane preparedness week? This is what everyone was clamoring for?!?

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