You know that old saw that if you take your umbrella with you, it won’t rain? Today’s version is: if you are prepared for an emergency, it won’t happen. Nobody believes that, of course, but it is very true in that the more we are prepared for the next emergency that hits our town, the better off we all will be.
Emergencies come in all forms. We are very well acquainted with weather-related emergencies. Other emergencies may take the form of cyberattacks that cripple a power grid and/or the Town’s technology infrastructure or an active shooter event. At the Town level, we need to be prepared for numerous possibilities that may impair a large number of our residents from going about business as usual. New Fairfield’s Office of Emergency Management is run by Maria Evans and has the responsibility for helping us all prepare for the next emergency.
One important aspect of that preparation in training. I recently participated in two “table-top” training exercises along with several other town officials and employees. The first exercise was run by the State of Connecticut and had participants from New Fairfield and several other towns in Western Connecticut as well as the State, EverSource, the natural gas company, and the Red Cross. It had as its scenario a “black sky” event where a cyberattack knocks out the power grid for the entire Northeast and an armed attack takes out regional natural gas facilities. Participants were asked to address cyber security issues and then to identify what steps needed to be taken for a lengthy power outage followed by rolling brown-outs over several months while the power grid is gradually restored.
You don’t know how dependent you are on your electricity, cell phone and the internet until you step through what you can’t do without regular and immediate access to them. Banking (both deposits and withdrawals), paying for merchandise, ordering merchandise, pumping gas, pumping water, not to mention basic communications are next to impossible. One take-away for me from this exercise is that we are in better shape than many towns on the cybersecurity front. No town or institution is invulnerable, but steps can be taken to make it difficult to break into a town’s system and to make sure minimal damage occurs if there is a break-in. We have taken some important steps in this direction and continue to work on it.
The second exercise was sponsored by FEMA and included participants from EverSource and the Red Cross, as well as Town employees. The exercise centered on a more conventional scenario of week-long power outage caused by a major winter storm. I sort of felt we had a recent dress rehearsal for this, but it was nonetheless a valuable exercise in our effort to outline processes that need to be put in place to plan and improve how we react when powerful weather is barreling down on us. The major take-away from this exercise (as well as the cyberattack exercise) is how critical communication is and how difficult it is without power and cell service. We continue to think through how to improve getting important messages out to residents in a wide-spread emergency.
There are a number of things you can do for yourself to prepare for an emergency. A good first step is to make sure you are enrolled in the Town’s AlertNow system to receive important messages from the Town in the event of an emergency. We have approximately 11,000 people now enrolled in the AlertNow. You may enroll by clicking the red “Enroll in AlertNow” button on the left side of the Town website (www.newfairfield.org) and filling out and submitting the form, or by calling the First Selectman’s office at 203-312-5600. Additionally, you should make sure you are prepared in your home with sufficient food, water, medication, fuel, emergency power, etc. to weather a power outage of approximately 96 hours. The previous recommendation had been to be prepared for a 72-hour event, but with storms now becoming more severe and longer in duration, agencies are advising to be prepared for an additional day.
The website www.ready.gov contains good information on emergency preparedness at home.
I am finishing this column up as the third winter storm is about to hit us. And it’s only the middle of December. Time to check my supplies and make sure my extra batteries are charged…