Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used the town of Simsbury — one of the hardest hit during the October snowstorm and subsequent power outage — as a backdrop to announce “concrete” steps that will be taken to make the state better prepared for disasters.
The steps include proposing legislation that authorizes the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to develop performance standards for all utilities’ responses to emergencies, storms and natural disasters, with fines if the standards aren’t met.
Another step is to hold a real-time exercise in which all five Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security regions will participate before September.
And a third is to increase the state Department of Transportation’s tree maintenance program by $1 million.
“Preparedness was something we now know we hadn’t paid enough attention to,” said Malloy from the main meeting room of the on Wednesday.
Malloy pointed out that it was about a year ago that the state was hit with a massive snowstorm. Since that time, he said, he has been working on preparedness and improving the utility systems' ability to withstand such events.
It was 13 days until the last person in Simsbury had their power restored after the October storm, and the same story could be told in other towns and during Tropical Storm Irene a few months earlier.
First Selectman Mary Glassman, in introducing the governor, said Malloy moved quickly and involved local officials in developing an action plan.
“We’re grateful that our voices were heard,” she said.
Asked if some of these changes may mean higher utility rates, Malloy said, “It might.”
Improving communication and better training for state and local officials and utilities are also part of the package. Filling vacant positions at the state level, improving mutual assistance between utilities, expanding United Way of Connecticut 2-1-1’s communication capacity, and possibly 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, are also part of the plan.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will be asked to open a docket to address utilities’ tree trimming programs to prevent excessive infrastructure damage before the next storm.
The initiatives include both legislative proposals and 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.
Saying he hopes that the state does not see another weather year like 2011 for some time, Malloy said the state needs to be prepared because a weather event can happen at any time.
“These are definitive acts that will be taken as a result of our experiences,” he said.
Malloy stressed that the initiatives announced are not the only actions the administration will be taking on this issue. In the coming months, he will continue working with legislators, commissioners, municipalities, utility companies, non-profits and other partners to propose additional steps to improve preparedness and recovery efforts.