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VIDEO: Then and Now, Irene A Year Later

What the town learned from Tropical Storm Irene.

A year ago today,

The storm had sustained winds around 37 mph, according to Weather Underground, with gusts above 60 mph – meaning the storm was far off from being even a Category 1 hurricane. Yet the impact was felt, with 6,500 Waterford homes left without power, or 68 percent of the population.

It would take a week for power to be fully restored, and for school to finally start. And while the storm proved inconvenient, nobody was killed, and it provided a valuable lesson, Red Cross Senior Director of Disaster Services Sue Bolen said.

“Its been a learning experience,” Bolen said. “It had been a lot of years (since we had a storm like that), and I think people weren’t prepared. People hadn’t thought about what they would do if they didn’t have power for a week.”

In that year that has followed, the Red Cross, the town of Waterford, Connecticut Light & Power and other related organizations have all made storm response a priority. CL&P has cleared trees away from the power lines, the town has participated in storm drills and has tried to encourage residents to be prepared and the Red Cross has learned that often one is better than four.

Lessons

In the past year, CL&P has cleared many of the branches around the power lines, to the point First Selectman Dan Steward said he sees it as a problem. Cutting down all those trees can’t be good for the environment, he said.

“You look at the streets, the trees are cleared,” Steward said. “I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

The biggest problem Waterford faced last year from the storm was that the town had work crews ready, but CL&P wasn’t ready to go. Steward said the town has met with CL&P since Irene, and hopes the communication has improved.

“We’ve met with them many times,” Steward said. “I believe they’ve gotten it.”

The town has also reached out to residents, encouraging them to be prepared for storms. Waterford’s emergency management department set up a Facebook page, and last week , encouraging them to be prepared for storms and the power outages that follow.

“The residents assume a comfort zone,” Steward said. “(They say) we are comfortable, we are happy. No you're not, there are issues.”

And while the project is unrelated, Town Hall should have a generator by the end of the year, which will help during the storms, Steward said. Additionally, the Red Cross received trailers through a grant with 100 cots and 100 blankets for shelters, along with supplies for handicapped people, Bolen said.

The Red Cross also realized two things after the storm: it needs more volunteers, and it needs to consolidate services, Bolen said. Bolen said the local Red Cross has 200 volunteers, but only around 100 could be used during Irene, because the other 100 had their own storm-related problems to deal with.

“We need people, we need volunteers,” Bolen said. “It takes a tremendous amount of people to run an operation.”

Bolen added that by consolidating services, the Red Cross can do more. For example, having one shelter covering a few towns instead of every town having their own shelter was far more efficient, she said.

During Irene, people from Waterford, Montville, Old Lyme, Lyme and East Lyme all went to East Lyme Middle School for shelter, Bolen said. That is a model to follow, she said.

“Every town does not need to open a shelter,” Bolen said. “We had ten people here and four people there and three people there, we need to consolidate. We need to be a team with our communities.”

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