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State Officials: Communication Needs to Improve for Future Storms

State and local officials and utility executives discussed ways they could improve communication during severe storms or prolonged power outages Wednesday.

About the only thing that the phalanx of state, local, and utility company officials who addressed the governor’s Two Storm Panel on Wednesday could seem to agree on was that communications and cooperation between the various agencies needs to be improved to prepare for future storms and severe power outages.

“It’s my hope that this is the beginning of a dialogue which we’ve wanted for a long time,” Meghan McGaffin, who coordinates graphic information systems for the town of Milford, told the panel. 

The Two Storm Panel is an eight-member group appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and charged with reviewing the preparedness and response by the state, local municipalities and utilities during Tropical Storm Irene and the October Nor’easter, and then presenting a series of recommendations to Malloy as to how those efforts can be improved. Wednesday’s meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford was the eighth such meeting of the group.

A number of local and state officials responsible for graphic information systems — systems for recording and analyzing geographic information and data — told the panel of instances of poor communication with utilities in the wake of the storm and sometimes a flat out refusal for the utility to share its data. 

“Often times we hear that people don’t want to share their information because they are afraid it’s going to be used improperly,” said Tyler Kleykamp, who chairs the Geospatial Information Systems Council for the state’s Office of Policy and Management.

Kleykamp said that there were legitimate concerns for utilities or the state to withhold certain information, such as for proprietary or safety concerns, but also noted that he hoped if officials learned anything from the October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene, both of which caused widespread and lengthy power outages throughout the state, it was the importance of sharing information in the future. 

“We have to share the data in order to make this work,” he told the panel. “We know it saves time, it saves money, and improves communication.”

Ken Bowes, a Connecticut Light & Power executive, said that going forward the company was committed to better communication and information sharing with the state and local municipalities, but that it faced certain restrictions of its own. Bowes noted that CL&P, or any electric company, did not fully own many of the poles that service its network — he said cellphone or telecommunication companies might at times jointly own the poles — and that to make some of the upgrades that the panel discussed, such as being able to pinpoint exactly where within a network a pole or wire might be down, would cost money and require approval by state utility regulators.

 offered one of the rare scenarios during the storm of a successful working relationship with CL&P officials and personnel, which they credited for helping to restore power in town faster than many of the surrounding municipalities.

“The value that we had in Manchester was that the (CL&P) operations team were the same people that worked storm Irene, but it was also the same people that worked in Manchester throughout the years on various other power upgrades,” Public Works Director Mark Carlino told the Two Storm Panel. “I can’t underscore the importance that we were lucky enough to have that team assigned to Manchester.”

Not all nearby municipalities had similar stories to share with the commission Wednesday, however. Aaron Nash, who coordinates graphic information systems for the town of Vernon, said that Vernon had compiled detailed maps of the damage throughout town, but when they requested corroborating information from CL&P they were often met with long delays or resistance.

“We had residents that had to drive across other residents' lawns because of wires and trees down,” Nash told the panel. “Some elderly and disabled residents were stuck in their homes for more than one day.”

 and Tropical Storm Irene, both of which resulted in more than 800,000 power outages for customers, with many lasting more than a week, and C.

After hearing much of the testimony, Joe MeGee, who co-chairs the Two Storm Panel and serves as the vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, expressed embarrassment that in many cases it seemed that state, federal and local agencies and utility companies were all compiling the same data but not bothering to share it with one another in cases of emergency.

“Does that make any sense to pay all that money for a system that doesn’t talk to each other? It’s kind of embarrassing,” he said. “The opportunity here for collaboration in a way we have not yet achieved I think is very real.”

Steve Symonds December 06, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Looks like the NE Utilities/NStar merger maybe unraveling. So richly deserved. Note in this piece that one of the "features" of the merger would be a reduction in expenditures by the merged utility -- exactly at a time when CL&P needs to increase spending to overcome years of negilgence. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/business/reasons-to-stop-a-utility-merger.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=witt&st=Search.

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