Westport study on tropical storm Isaias outlines improvements to be made

WESTPORT — Technical improvements to the town’s public safety radio system and establishing a mailing with emergency information were just some of the recommendations made to Westport in a recently released report addressing the aftermath of tropical storm Isaias.

The report will be the subject a special meeting for the town’s Emergency Management Team on Nov. 9. But the town published the document in advance to allow the public time to take in the information, according to town spokesperson Sara Harris.

“We want to give people the ability to read it,” Harris said. “It’s a well- thought-out document.”

Harris said the meeting will involve the team going over the report while providing a public platform to respond to residents’ questions.

“We understand the public wanted to ask some questions and had some comments,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re listening to those.”

The town was one of the hardest hit in the wake of the storm, and the report outlines the damage it wrought, as well as utility companies and the town’s response. Some of the challenges listed included responding to a major storm during a pandemic and keeping residents informed during a power outage that affected 97 percent of Westport at the height of the storm.

“The majority of residents and businesses were left without power, cable, cellular and, or Wi-Fi service, making most of the town’s public communications and notification systems ineffective and inaccessible,” the report reads. “Traditional television and information sources were unavailable as well.”

A break in communication from the administration during the storm was a major concern for residents, according to Sal Liccione, a RTM member who represents and lives downtown.

“Residents lost tons of money with their food being thrown out,” Liccione said, adding several local businesses were still reeling from the impact of going without power for a length of time.

But he said a collaborative approach between the RTM, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen will be needed to better prepare the town for future emergencies.

The report outlines lessons learned from the event including an importance of flexibility. According to the report, the town planned for a flood event but the storm’s damage came mainly from wind. The report also said it was important to prepare for technology to fail.

“During this storm the town public safety radio system failed, as it did during the March 2010 Nor’ Easter,” the report reads. “Cellular phones and data failed because of phone wires down and power outages.”

Specific recommendations were included, which revolved around creating a technology checklist for proactive information ahead of storms when power outages are expected, a reminder of the town’s radio station, where charging and Wi-Fi stations are located and more.

Other recommendations included building upon work being done by the town like establishing a townwide mailing with emergency and preparedness information, establishing an annual plan to educate the public on community preparedness, investing in technical improvements for the WWPT radio system, and closing Parks and Recreation Department facilities immediately upon being informed of a major storm.

Harris said the town is currently working to build upon its emergency response plan. She said the Human Services Department is already working on a reminder document for residents in the case of future emergency situations.

“I know our police and fire have started some conversations with the utilities on some of the issues as well,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t say that there’s a resolve yet, but we have begun to move on some of the recommendations.”