This week's statewide emergency preparedness drill had Emergency Operations Centers in East Lyme, Old Lyme, and Lyme hustling to make ready for a Category 3 Hurricane and responding to scenarios provided by the state to test their ability to cope with the aftermath.
Think it can't happen here?
"When you think back to [the hurricane of] 1938, East Lyme was impacted hugely and there were not the number of houses at Black Point and Crescent Beach then as there are today," said East Lyme Public Safety Director, Fire Marshal Richard Morris. "If we had a Category 3 hurricane today it would be hugely different because we're so densely populated now."
Better Coordination Between Towns and CL&P
More than 165 municipalities participated in the drill, along with state agencies, utility companies including Connecticut Light & Power, telecommunications companies, and emergency relief agencies such as the American Red Cross. They rehearsed procedures for clearing roads of downed power lines, evacuating residents both before and after, and setting up multi-town shelters.
Many of the emergency procedures the towns practiced are new, instituted by the state in response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October snow storm that left so many people stranded without power last year.
Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said that having someone from CL&P as a designated town liaison, which was something that was put into place after Irene, made a big difference in the town's ability to respond to reports of outages.
"I think we all had some level of comfort with the upgraded utility response plan from CL&P," said Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno.
Communications Breakdown in Lyme
The drill revealed a few computer issues in Lyme, which had difficulty with the computer format the state was using. In a town where cell phone service is spotty at the best of times, Eno said Lyme would probably need a satellite system to communicate in a real emergency.
"It was an interesting exercise," Eno said. "Lyme will be fine. We understand we're going to be alone and we will deal with it. You have to be patient and self-sufficient."
Although East Lyme managed to get through Irene with cell phone service largely intact, for the purposes of this drill Lyme, Old Lyme, and East Lyme all developed contingency plans in the event that communication systems were knocked out.
"You're down to paper and voice," said Reemsnyder, adding that Old Lyme now has 11 locations in mind for signs to tell people what to do and where to go for help.
Will People Heed Warnings?
Morris said he's confident that East Lyme's emergency operations team is well trained and prepared to respond should a hurricane occur. Indeed, for this drill, the town even upped the ante and planned flood staging for a Category 4 hurricane.
Still, he worries that people won't heed warnings that the town would issue prior to such a storm making landfall—and that's not something a drill can reveal.
"Are they going to take the message seriously three days beforehand when we say, 'We're not telling you to evacuate but we strongly recommend that you go see grandma in another part of the state?'" Morris said. "How can we get the message to the people and make them understand the message is serious?"