Bob Horton: good questions, maybe not all good answers

In today’s on-line version of Greenwich Time he asks where is the town’s emergency preparedness plan and why is it kept in a secure, undisclosed location? (I have it on reliable authority, Bob, that it’s stashed in Peter Tesei’s under drawers). Horton’s absolutely right, but I disagree with some of his observations, like this one:

I am not an expert on the utility business, but it seems that CL&P has outsourced all but the most basic day-to-day maintenance of its infrastructure. In the event of a major storm, CL&P relies on hundreds of crews from far-off states to ride to the rescue. And if you think CL&P is going to “pre-position” this civilian army on our borders at the first hint of trouble, think again. These crews do not truly mobilize until the damage is done, and then they are at least a two-day drive away.

Bob, at the peak of restoration efforts, CL&P had over 4,000 out-of-state crews working 16 hours a day. To suggest that CL&P pre-position them on our borders is just silly – you’d have to call them down from Quebec and Minnesota, say, days in advance of a threatened storm. Who foots the bill for that when the hurricane shifts course and veers out to sea? It happens.

And your criticism of CL&P for keeping too few linemen on its payroll is no better founded: we rate payers can’t afford, nor would we want to keep enough linemen on the payroll to make a significant difference in responding to one or two disasters every couple of years. If 4,000 crews were required to effectively repair the state’s wires, what would 100 men accomplish? An expensive luxury, however powerfully symbolic.

On the other hand, this is a great question, and the problem it exposes seems easily correctable:

In speaking to a crew that I believe was based in Quebec, they said that a shortage of gasoline hindered their repair work. Wondering if a backup gasoline supply was covered by the town’s emergency plan, I emailed Peter Tesei. He took great exception to my question and to my “pre-determined agenda,” but also forwarded a response from Emergency Management DirectorDaniel Warzoha. He wrote that providing gasoline was not part of the town’s responsibility (perhaps a new section of our secret emergency plan is needed?), but that between the town’s Fleet Department and CL&P creating a fueling station at Grass Island, utility crews had the gasoline they needed.

I heard from a friend that she saw line crews stuck in gas lines, waiting an hour to refuel. She called Fred Camillo, he called Tesei, he called the Chief of Police and an order went out to the cops directing those lines to give the power workers priority. I was gratified to learn that that entire process took just 30 minutes t work its way up, and then down the chain of command, but isn’t this something that should have been thought of and planned for years ago?

Horton’s right: if our “emergency plan” really exists, why not make it public and see what deficiencies ordinary citizens might spot?

But here’s the real point of Sandy and the lesson we should have learned, which Horton doesn’t address: help in even a modest-disaster like this is not going to be instantly available. It can’t be, so citizens should be prepared to look after themselves for several days, if not longer. “Preppers” have been ridiculed for years, and I tend to scoff at what seems to be their paranoia, but we’d all have been far more comfortable last week if our houses had basic camping gear and emergency food stores at hand. We don’t need a government emergency plan to know that, and to act on it.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “Bob Horton: good questions, maybe not all good answers

  1. Ctanalyst

    If Horton would have read Tesei’s explanation of the Greenwich Emergency Plan published by the Greenwich Patch, maybe he could have spared us his ignorance:
    http://greenwich.patch.com/articles/greenwich-emergency-response-plan-explained

  2. armonk

    Power companies could certainly do more. Utility crews were in front of my house in Armonk on Wednesday, 2 days after the storm. There were not enough utility poles. Town highway department wouldn’t clear fallen trees because there were wires down. (even though the wires were severed on both ends.
    Finally, Asplundh (Con Ed’s tree contractor) arrived and cut the trees.
    On Saturday afternoon we drove up to Foxwoods. As we were driving up 95 there were trucks hauling utility poles coming south, accompanied by a long line of bucket trucks. Where were they for 5 days?
    I lived in GA for 10 years and TX for 6 years and grew up 40 miles south of Rochester NY for my first 20 years. The power NEVER went out. Not once.
    Here in Armonk, we have had three outages lasting 5 days in the previous 15 months: Aug and Oct 2011 and the current storm.

  3. Anonymous

    The Ant, The Grasshopper, the Personal Shopper, and the Entitled Persons* Rescue League.

    *Entitled Persons can be of any background from welfare queen to hedge fund princess to delusional dumbass politician.

  4. New in Town

    I agree with Armonk. Something is seriously wrong with our infrastructure to have so many repeated outages. I’m from the South, and we never lost power during storms in NC and GA either. I’ve talked to people who grew up in MA and other NE areas that say the same thing, so it isn’t just a new versus old thing. We have lines that are tied with ropes to tree branches in our cul de sac in Riverside. What company thought that was a good idea? It is really pathetic.

    • Well, New, Miami is also in the south and I’ve heard that people down there sometimes lose power, so I’m guessing it has more to do with where hurricanes land than poor ol’ CL&P. One thing that sets Greenwich off from other towns, although I don’t know whether it would have made a difference last week, is that we have the most restrictive tree – trimming rules in the state, according to CL&P. We like our trees a little too much, if we also want uninterrupted power.

  5. anonymous

    Peter Peter
    Pumpkin Eater
    Had a plan, but couldn’t keep her
    Put it in a pumpkin shell
    And there he kept it very well

  6. Cos Cobber

    I’m not ready to give CL&P a pass, but its interesting to see how we have fared versus Long Island & NJ. The damage was much greater in this locations – obviously – but from the sounds of it, it seems like a lot of towns well off the coast remain w/o power.

  7. Anonymous

    This youtube expresses some of the sentiment in Fairfield County quite well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o6Yk6GT3JY&feature=share

  8. Anonymous

    I think you make some good points Chris, it is not possible to have a permanent contingency for a hurricane of this magnitude. However, once the out of state crews arrived (on our mid country street we had crews from Florida, Oklahoma, Quebec, Indiana and Massachusetts) I think it is clear that CL+P was not doing an efficient job of deploying these guys. Despite seeing multiple crews on the street from day 4 to day 8 we only got the work done on day 8 and day 9. That being said, most houses here have generators and we are all blessed that we did not suffer real hardship as experienced in parts of Old Greenwich, NJ, NYC and LI. End of the day it was an inconvenience, nothing more.

  9. Georgie

    I’m starting to think that Horton and FF are kissing cousins in their myopic, relentless pursuit that all problems, issues, constraints are created by the Republican party (and Tesei in particular)….and all goodness, clarity, and truth is in the Democratic party.

    How suffocating it must be to live in such limited philosophical confines. Funny, bigotry can go both ways.

    It is a good thing that the Town layed off all the UNION tree workers (earning $70 bucks an hour when considering lifetime benefits) and replaced them with accountable and cost effective contract work force.

    Horton should take a look at the productivity and costs of those employees maintaining our parks, golf course, and beaches and then write a column convincing the taxpayer that we need more union workers, not less.

  10. Anonymous

    Anon @ 9:48
    that is hilarious!

  11. Fred2

    Agreed, we can’t have 1000’s of line-men on-standby for the once a year disaster, but It does sound like “we” could have more pre-positioned “stuff”, such as: transformers, extra poles, gasoline/diesel for trucks with manual pumps.

    Having the disaster plan public would be good. At the very least it should state expectations: e.g. “Everyone should plan to be on their own for 72 hours for water, heat. ,medicine and food. Emergency services may be cancelled or severely scaled back due to heavy weather & flooding.”

    Also crowd sourcing the plan might prove quite useful. E.g. There are in fact smart practical people in this town who might make interesting and useful comments.

  12. Earth Image

    May I remind you all that the Town GIS/Planning Depts confirmed this flooding event was more than two feet below that elevational level that FEMA flood insurance is based on for risk hazard with a 1% annual chance of occurrence. Winds peaked at a few gusts of 72 miles per hour – well below the hurricane level. Storm surge occurred at low tide – like Gloria in 1985. This was not a tropical storm. There were no hurricane warnings issued, even for New Jersey, where landfall was predicted by guidance models 10 days in advance.

    So was this an emergency, or the new normal of routine weather experience? And if it is the new normal, why isn’t the plan specific to individual properties, streets and neighborhoods? FEMA puts a rating on every property? The Army Corps produced a Town specific Emergency Management Document in 1989. Has anyone looked at it recently?

  13. anonymous

    I like Freddie Camillo, He certainly is earnest. But why does he wear that baseball hat all the time? I also like his dog, Rudy. Rudy does not wear a baseball hat.

  14. Riverslide

    Hearing all the people whine about loosing electricity really got me thinking about how nicely arranged these people’s lives must be.

    My principal worries are about my marriage, my job and my kids’ college education. A few days without electricity just isn’t an issue, to be frank.

  15. Anonymous

    Reply to Georgie pushing unions ——- I take it that you closed your eyes
    to the SEIU union workers that yelled and swore at the lineman crews that
    came up from Alabama until they had no choice but go home! Further, the
    hospital in Birmingham Alabama was out of operation since there servers
    went down located in New Jersey. I suspect they were trying to get the
    the hospital back in service! Too bad you weren’t the one denied medical help because some jerk’s top priority was their union status!
    the hospital because a non-union worker was trying to help you

  16. Storing gasoline just for an emergency isn’t practical because it only has a shelf life of a few months. I assume the town has an underground tank an pump for fueling town vehicles. They should make sure it’s topped off whenever a major storm is predicted and then let the utility crews gas up there.

    • You know, Richard, the old mansions in the back country used to have small above-ground tanks to service their farm vehicles – I still see them occasionally. I have no idea whether town code will still permit that – certainly not in our more crowded neighborhoods – but if I lived way ut there and it was legal, I’d put in a tank, add stabilizer to the gas and feel somewhat more secure.

  17. Georgie

    Anonymous at 3:17pm….my mistake. In re-reading I can see how you mistook my post. I was, in fact, AGAINST Horton’s notion that we should not have eliminated the Town’s unionized tree cutting work force. I can see, however, how you read otherwise. Apologies.

  18. NorthEastFLGeek

    While sitting here in the state that usually gets hit with hurricanes I am reading quite a lot about the gasoline “shortages”. I can’t help but wonder though. Is this an actual supply problem (no gas)? or a distribution problem (no electricity to pump the gas on hand at existing stations)? If it is the latter, would a simple solution not be found in a hand pump requirement at each station? Primitive and slow, but it would get the local supplies out of the ground faster than waiting for the power to come back on.

    • Mostly a lack of electricity and, even more, panic, NEF. Gas was readily available but drivers had to travel a few miles north or west or east to escape the huge lines of Nw Yorkers who fled the city and stopped in the first town in Connecticut. Just silly. New York and New Jersey and ensuring a continuation of their “shortage” by rationing it, but that’s another story.
      I like your idea of hand pumps, though. The politicians are all squawking about a new law, naturally, that would require back-up generators every gas station – your idea is simple, cheap and effective. Of course, if the pumping ability of such pumps is as low as I imagine, we might not be so happy with the results – 20 minutes to fill each car’s tank, for instance, isn’t going to solve the problem.

  19. Earth Image

    Carl Safina, the marine conservationist and writer, made this point in a CNN.com post last week :

    [U]npreparedness requires, one might say, quite a lot of preparation. We build in places prone to flooding. We do that largely because subsidies encourage it. Federal flood insurance is a way the entire country subsidizes building and rebuilding in places destined for repeated hits.

    We rely on overhead lines to bring electricity, lines vulnerable to falling trees. And when they fall, we put them right back. Underground lines are more expensive. But if you have to keep repairing the overhead lines…

    We’ve created coastal bowling-pin communities; we set ‘em up and the weather takes ‘em down. I live in one. I’m guilty. In my defense, I’ll claim entrapment, because I have federal flood insurance. You made me do it. So I just want to take this opportunity to thank you. But I’d like to also tell you, it’s OK with me if you withdraw your generosity. In fact it would be better if you did. You help make us lazy. And by us, I mean millions of people living along the coast, whistling in the dark. And you help our politicians look away from the oncoming truth.

  20. Anonymous

    There’s a supply element to the problem too. A Hess and a Philliips 66 refinery in NJ are both down, removing about 300,000 barrels a day of refining capacity from the market:

    http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2012/11/gasoline_futures_up_as_nj_refi.html

    If you estimate that 25% of their output was gasoline, that’s about 3 million gallons a day of supply that we’re missing. And that product was distributed by barge to Newburgh, NY. New Haven and probably Boston too.

    Many years ago I worked for Texaco (before the bankruptcy) so I know a bit about the refining and distribution end of the oil business.

  21. The comment above at 7:32 was mine. Somehow I lost my posting details.