Blizzard 2013: Lessons Learned?
by Ethan Fry | Feb 13, 2013 8:10 pm
The snow fell. And fell. And fell.
Ambulances and fire trucks were stranded responding to calls. The plow trucks called to help? They were stranded, too. See the video for an example in Shelton.
Towns and cities in the area have spent days cleaning up the aftermath of the Blizzard of 2013 — and the big dig could go on for several more.
So what, if anything, can be learned and applied to future storms?
Short answer: it’s too soon to tell — but we have some general ideas.
Seymour First Selectman Kurt Miller said town officials will meet next week to analyze what happened and how the town handled it.
“After every major event like this, we always do a debrief,” Miller said.
One idea he thinks has merit: creating a “war room” during heavy snowfalls staffed with people relaying calls from residents and emergency responders to public works crews.
“It was challenging because it was not just about plowing snow, unfortunately,” Miller said. “We had to be concerned with fire, police, ambulance.”
When emergency calls came in, plow drivers had to break from their routes to help first responders get to where they were needed.
“You’ve got guys pulled in different directions so they couldn’t stay constant on the routes,” Miller said.
One easy way to guard against future blizzards — buy more heavy machinery to clear the roads.
But a post-blizzard spending spree would be imprudent, Miller said.
“You’ve got to be cautious about the equipment you buy because you don’t want to be prepared for a storm that only happens every 35 years,” he said.
Instead, Miller said he envisions a system by which towns can enter into agreements with private contractors before winter. They would act as bench warmers to the Department of Public Works, ready to jump in during big storms.
“At the start of each winter, we need to work with some contractors and lock in some equipment, even if we have to pay them a little ahead of time,” he said. “We were very fortunate to get help from a lot of the contractors, but they needed to take care of their stuff first and then they came to us.”
In Derby, Mayor Anthony Staffieri said Wednesday that the city’s department heads would meet to discuss how to respond to such massive storms “after everything has settled.”
“It seems like these storms are happening more and more frequently, from hurricanes to wind storms to you name it,” Staffieri said. “The last couple of years we sure have gotten our fill.”
The mayor said Derby might look to acquire an “in-between” snow removal vehicle to complement its current fleet.
“We’ve got two large payloaders,” Staffieri said. “I would probably look to buy something smaller than a payloader but bigger than a bobcat. The bobcats were straining under the load. We have one, and it needed help.”
In Ansonia, Mayor James Della Volpe said arranging outside help from contractors ahead of the winter sounds like a possibility.
He said Wednesday that city officials would be meeting Thursday to assess the city’s response to the storm.
Della Volpe said dealing with the blizzard has been his biggest challenge as mayor since the Latex Foam factory fire in 2001.
The photo below shows heavy machinery attacking mounds of snow on Ansonia’s Main Street Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve been meeting every day going over what went right and what went wrong,” Della Volpe said.
The city has all the equipment it needs, he said, and “everything should be back to normal by tomorrow (Feb. 14) morning.”
Crews in Ansonia worked around the clock to clear the roads. Emergency responders, at one point during the height of the blizzard, had to walk to a call for service because their truck couldn’t navigate the streets.
“I’m sure not everybody’s satisfied by the performance, but we did the best we could under the conditions,” Della Volpe said. “We’re trying to address each complaint as it comes in.”
The snow just fell too fast for the city’s plow crews to keep up, he said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. This is the toughest storm we’ve ever had to deal with,” said Edward Adamowski, an Ansonia Alderman who also serves as Assistant Chief of the Ansonia Fire Department.
The Valley Indy spoke to Adamowski Wednesday immediately after firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue a man during a medical call.
“We’re tired,” Adamowski said of the volunteer fire department. “But I give the guys credit. They are plugging along.”
In such severe weather situations, couldn’t cities reach out to state and federal governments for more help?
It was a question residents posed to the Valley Indy through social media and e-mail. This publication heard from people snowbound in apartment complexes. They said their landlords couldn’t get private plows to clear the parking lots because the private contractors had been hired by the cities.
Derby attempted to contact the National Guard during the height of the blizzard Friday night/early Saturday during a medical call on Route 8. However, the Guard wasn’t needed because Derby medics were able to get to their patient.
Shelton attempted to call the National Guard at one point, but the Guard was already busy in larger nearby cities.
Miller said Seymour officials contemplated asking for National Guard help, too, but decided against it since there were no dire emergencies.
But, he said: “Had we lost power, that would have been an entirely different scenario.”
Ansonia reached out to the National Guard as well, but were told the Guard was busy elsewhere and did not have the resources to help with snow removal.
Local emergency operation commands set up during the blizzard were in constant contact with the state.
“We had and continue to have excellent communications with the state,” said Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale. “They have responded very quickly and assisted whenever they could.”
Della Volpe said he put in a call to Gov. Dannel Malloy soon after the snow started falling because city officials quickly realized how bad it would be.
“I talked to the governor personally and he assured me he’d get us whatever we needed, when it was available,” Della Volpe said.
The state eventually sent two payloaders and trucks Ansonia’s way, he said.
Other local officials said they reached out for help, but with mixed results.
“We made requests to the state for additional equipment, but they had a wait on that until the state actually freed up the equipment,” Miller said. “By the time that happened we were in relatively good shape.”
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said his city asked for help from the state — but so did a lot of other municipalities.
“From day one we’ve requested assistance, but so has everybody else,” Lauretti said Tuesday. “Everybody’s competing for the same resources, everybody has the same problems.”
Miller said there was cooperation among the local Valley towns.
“There’s been a lot of cooperation between the communities,” he said, noting that Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerald Smith loaned Seymour a loader and a dumptruck, and Oxford First Selectman George Temple was helpful in plowing roads the two towns shared.
“Everybody’s looking out for everybody else, which is nice to know that we have that type of camaraderie between the communities,” Miller said.
Staffieri said he stayed in touch with Della Volpe and Lauretti throughout the storm.
“If somebody needs help, we’re right there for each other,” Staffieri said. “We’re here to help each other out.”
From Lauretti’s viewpoint, that sort of cooperation is preferable to depending on state and federal authorities to come to the rescue.
“I think that Americans need to come to grips with these types of disasters,” Lauretti went on. “You can’t rely on the state or federal government. It’s not practical. Look at Katrina. Look at Sandy. The effort really comes locally.”
Miller predicted Seymour and other towns would be reimbursed for some of the cost of cleaning up after the storm through FEMA.
Seymour got $194,000 from FEMA to reimburse costs associated with 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene and a freak late October snowstorm.
“There’s going to be a substantial cost to this storm, but it’s money that we had to spend,” Miller said.
Staffieri said Wednesday that FEMA has offered to reimburse the city’s costs for a 48-hour period of storm cleanup.
He said he has reached out to Rep. Rosa DeLauro in an effort to get FEMA to extend the period to more than 48 hours, “because it’s taken so long, because we had so much snow.”
With reporting from Eugene Driscoll.