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Letter: Grading Fairfield's Handling of Irene

By Henri Lellouche

Dear Editors:

If Fairfield were a business, how would I grade management on "business continuity" during ?

I think the answer is somewhere between a C- or a D+, and it shows how fragile our Town and many other town’s ecosystem are in that a Tropical Storm (Irene was no longer a Hurricane when it reached Fairfield) could paralyze the town for so long and leave so many with no clear understanding of what was happening.

I do not fault the or the who no doubt until the town was brought back to life. Instead, I fault poor planning, weak execution and dismal communication by Town officials, Utility Management and Cable/Telco operators. As they say in many difficult situations, “not knowing” is the worst part …

I applaud the reverse 911 system that was installed to reach all households, but the ineffectual messages from the Town Selectman defeated its purpose…if we can step into the way-back machine to the days before the storm, the following could have been communicated through reverse 911, the newspapers, Fairfield Patch and other sources:

“Hello, this is the Town Selectman with important news and information for you as to how we will maintain town functionality during this impending storm (or other disaster). You may lose telephone communications so please take careful notes of what I am about to say:

  1. An emergency command post has been set up at which will be manned 24/7 during this crisis. Representatives of town government, the Utility companies and the Cable/Telco companies that operate in our area will have booths set up to answer all your questions and provide updates on service resumption. The websites for these companies will also be up and operational with expanded bandwidth and redundancy to accommodate the increased traffic, providing updates for those with Internet access.
  2. Each of the town’s middle schools will be powered by generators and will be open throughout this crisis providing cots in the gyms, locker access for showering and have potable water available to load into jugs for home use. You should access the middle school that is assigned to your home to avoid congestion at others. If the middle schools are overcrowded, the elementary schools will be used for spillover. Mobile Emergency Cell sites (Verizon and ATT have committed to this) will also be positioned at the middle schools to allow cell users to make and receive calls should service go down in existing towers.
  3. Working with Fairfield Public Radio, we have requested access to WSHU (91.1 FM or 1260 AM) to provide updates and official information to town residents, so please tune your radio to WSHU and make sure you have a battery operated radio with fresh batteries.
  4. In the event of a coastal flood, the beach area, south of the Post Road is banned to non-residents and will be evacuated if tides in excess of “X” feet about normal high tide are expected. The town website will have a posting of all streets that are blocked by tide activity, flooding or tree damage, so please consult www.Fairfieldstreets.com to learn of the best way to move about the town.
  5. Safety is not just the town’s responsibility, residents should take precautions and have 5 days water and canned food on hand, batteries and a battery operated radio, matches, candles or lanterns and wood or fuel needed to operate fireplaces, stoves or generators.”

I wish this type of messaging went out…It would have alleviated a lot of angst for many people who just “did not know”.

, I could not even access the UI website to find out when my home was scheduled to be reconnected for electrical service, and it was maddening that something so simple could not be addressed adequately. Perhaps this approach is not all inclusive, but it is certainly a step in the right direction and should be clearly understood by all residents of Fairfield.

Imagine if we had a real crisis…absent a clear plan, panic certainly would ensue.

DaveStoller September 06, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Essentially, these recommendations compile "best practices" from surrounding towns. For example, Westport commandeered WWPT (90.3) to communicate with everyone (great idea), while New Canaan had a web page noting street closures. I might add one idea: texts! VOIP phones don't work during a power outage.
Stacey September 06, 2011 at 08:47 PM
I agree. And VOIP phones also don't work when your cable is out for a week! It was a bit nervewracking to see these area code (860) emergency calls coming into my house (it goes to my email) but having no clue as to what the message was! What if it was truly critical information? I had no idea! Texting is a great solution! The public schools are effectively using it now, too.
Doug Jones September 08, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Monday morning quarterbacking regarding the worst storm in two decades. Not too difficult, Mr. Lellouche. As a small business owner I needed to know when my power, phone and web would be restored. I'm not sure one can blame the first selectman for the utilities' unwillingness to be honest with us.

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