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Thursday, October 29 News

Westport’s RTM wants more say in future disaster response

WESTPORT — In the aftermath of the tropical storm that caused massive damage to the community, the town’s top officials said they want to find ways to work more collaboratively in the town’s disaster response.

“A number of us on the RTM got a great number of inquiries from our constituents after the storm was fully passed — both letting us known the difficulties they faced in the aftermath of the storm, and asking what the RTM was going to do to address those difficulties,” Stephen Shackelford, a RTM member in district 8, said.

The town was one of the hardest communities hit in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, with many left without power for days.

“As RTM members for Westport, we want to make sure that we can be helpful however we can at the local level with processing the lessons learned and with helping to drive improvements that the town can implement to deal with the next storm,” Shackelford said.

Sal Liccione, a RTM member in District 9, said when the storm hit, many of his constituents in downtown Westport were left with no information because of a lack of communication from the town.

“They were trying to find when the power was going to come back on, when businesses were going to open,” Liccione said, saying a more dedicated link between first responders and the RTM could help aid future communication efforts.

Sara Harris, operations director for the town, said Westport already is in the middle of reviewing way to improve its storm response including better communication all around.

“With all emergency situations, we always do an after action — we will do individual write ups on what worked and what didn’t work,” Harris said. “We talk amongst ourselves, all of the individuals on the emergency response team, and go over that.”

She said the emergency response team is finalizing a document on storm response for a Board of Selectmen presentation. The review would also help to set out better procedures for the future, she said. No date has been set for the report.

“The process of having an after action meeting is standard, but it is usually just with the emergency response team,” Harris said. “It’s not standard to have it discussed in a public setting, but we understand the public wants to hear more. Hence we will do that this time.”

She said part of the report would include Eversource’s response to the storm and storm and communication problems caused by the prolonged power outage.

“Public communication, as far as how we were reaching the public and what the public was aware of, will also be discussed as well as our own internal communications,” Harris said.

The report’s presentation will give people a chance to weigh in on the storm response, she said.

RTM members will wait until after the presentation to decide if further discussion is needed.

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Shackelford said he and his colleagues look to be open minded in finding out the best way they can help. He said however that is best done they are committed to working with other town agencies to accomplish this.

“There’s a lot going on already,” Shackelford said. “We want to figure out how the RTM can participate constructively alongside these other efforts.”