Connecticut's governor wants better communication and training between local officials and utilities, as well as tougher standards on the latter, to avoid repeating last year's disastrous storm power outages.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday announced a package of storm preparedness and recovery initiatives on the heels of recommendations from a storm task force in the wake of August's Tropical Storm Irene and the freak snowstorm more than a month later that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Connecticut households.
Malloy's initiatives include both legislative proposals in addition to changes to administrative procedures and are concentrated on improving operations in four individual policy areas: performance; management and communications; preparedness and training; and infrastructure strengthening.
"The impact of last year's intense, record-breaking weather on our state - structurally, financially and emotionally - is something I hope we don't have to experience again anytime soon,'' Malloy said in Simsbury, one of the hardest-hit towns from October's Nor'easter. "With that in mind, I've directed state agencies to begin implementing several changes to procedures and will work with lawmakers on adopting legislative changes to allow our state, municipalities and its partners to better respond to natural disasters."
On his list of recommendations:
• Introduction of legislation that authorizes the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to develop performance standards for all utilities' responses to emergencies, storms and natural disasters. Standards would address planning, hazard mitigation, staffing and equipment, response times and recovery efforts. Failure to meet the standards should result in penalties.
• Work with utilities to improve mutual assistance.
Management & Communication
• Use the existing DEMHS Statewide Advisory Council for DESPP-DEMHS to convene state agency commissioners to delve into and review these recommendations, and to ensure that administration responses and actions are coordinated.
• Work to permanently fill the position of Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Management and Homeland Security of DESPP in the next 60 days. The Deputy Commissioner will work with the DESPP Commissioner and OPM to fill priority positions such as the Exercise, Training & Special Projects Manager and Planning Director positions in a timely fashion.
• In all future emergencies, this administration will continue the practice of daily conference calls between the Governor and municipal CEOs as outlined in the State Response Framework.
• DESPP-DEMHS is currently pursuing funds to expand United Way of Connecticut 2-1-1's communication capacity.
• Charge OPM to lead and synthesize GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) information and work with DESPP-DEMHS to implement its use. Coordinate with the Critical Infrastructure staff of DESPP-DEMHS to work collaboratively with OPM and relevant stakeholders.
• Charge the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and its Bureau of Enterprise Systems & Technology (BEST) to make available to key state agencies ArcGIS Server system in the next 90 days, and then to all agencies as part of a phase-in. DAS-BEST should work to eliminate barriers and redundancies that prohibit the use of the system. DAS-BEST and OPM have been working towards this roll-out since the summer.
• Exploring a cross agency enforcement team with the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) and PURA instead of creating a brand new division to better utilize existing resources; management and administration of poles and wires will be handled as part of an enforcement team.
Preparedness & Training
• DESPP-DEMHS plans to hold a real-time exercise that all five DEMHS regions will participate in some capacity before September.
• Explore amending the Good Samaritan Law or Title 28 to allow community providers to provide sheltering services to the general public in a declared state of emergency.
• DESPP-DEMHS plans to start an Energy & Utility Work group which will address enhance planning and communications, and will become a permanent committee of the DEMHS Advisory Council in accordance with the process provided to the Governor in response to the Witt Report.
• DESPP-DEMHS plans to expand the role of the existing Interoperable Communications Work Group to coordinate and enhance emergency communications.
• DEMHS is converting many of the task forces that were used successfully in the two storms into work groups under the DEMHS Advisory Council. DEMHS has already convened a State Mass Care work group that is working to address the recommendations; Nonprofit Liaison Deb Heinrich is already collaborating with this work group.
• DESPP-DEMHS in collaboration with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) will provide training on municipal roles and responsibilities in an emergency at a CEO workshop in March and collaborate with municipal leaders and emergency directors for a May 1 CCM conference on emergency preparedness.
• Increase Department of Transportation tree maintenance by $1 million for road/tree safety.
• Ask PURA to open a docket in an expeditious fashion to address utilities' tree trimming plans to prevent excessive infrastructure damage before the next storm.
• Explore a potential partnership between DEEP's Forestry Unit and PURA to work collaboratively on tree trimming - a partnership enabled by the DEEP merger.
• Develop a pilot program for microgrids in city centers and the use of energy improvement districts.