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Westport Is Better Prepared One Year After Irene

WESTPORT, Conn. – This time last year, Westport was gearing up for the arrival of Hurricane Irene , which caused widespread power outages and flooding along the coast and downtown. Now, one year later, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said he believes the town is better equipped to handle a similar event.

“I think we’re better prepared every time we have a storm because we learn things, like updating the technology we use, where we need more training and where we need more personnel,” said Joseloff.

Lessons learned during Irene and last October’s Halloween nor'easter have prompted the town to make improvements within its Emergency Operations Center, Joseloff said. For example, a new Google mapping system has been created that allows residents to see which roads are closed or where trees and wires are down.

Also, the area in which the public information phone calls are answered in the Emergency Operations Center will be separated from the main activity hub, so not to distract those supervising the emergency response, Joseloff said.

The town, he added, is also looking into getting an additional high-water vehicle to be used during storms, at little to no cost to the town through military surplus.

After Irene, about 9,700 power outages — more than 77 percent of the town — were reported. Last October, more than 2,900 households lost power . In both cases, power for some was not restored until a week later. That's why Joseloff said it's equally important for residents, not just the town, to be prepared.

"People look at me in a funny way when I say they should be prepared for two weeks, but we've been through it with Irene and the Halloween snowstorm," he said. "One hopes CL&P is better prepared, too. They say they are, but it's yet to be tested."

Across the state, more than 809,000 customers lost power after the October storm, and Irene knocked out power to more than 700,000.

The majority of outages during the two storms were caused by downed trees, said Mitch Gross, spokesman for CL&P As a result, the utility that provides power to most of the state has spent about $100 million this year trimming trees.

“We continue to be diligent about pruning trees as needed," Gross said.

Connecticut and its utility companies have also established “make-safe crews” that will go in before restoration crews to make sure roads are cleared of trees and live wires, said Scott DeVico, of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

These crews should help speed up power restoration in areas hit by storms, he added.

Communication has been another priority for CL&P, which has established liaisons with cities and town to share tools and information more quickly.

“A lot of hard work has gone into making sure that we’re prepared to respond to large-scale emergencies,” said Gross. "We’ve put our system to the test many times in the past year, and I’m proud to say we’ve been able to demonstrate improved response.”

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