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This Is Only a Test…North Branford Prepares for the Real Deal

North Branford officials gathered on July 30 and 31 to test their emergency operations plan.

Between the influx of and the statewide emergency drill, North Branford Town Hall was certainly bustling on July 30 and 31.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in a press release (full press release attached) that the “four-day statewide emergency preparedness drill that began on Saturday and was designed to simulate a Category 3 hurricane has allowed the state, local officials, utility companies and the private sector to exercise planning and preparation for the possibility of future emergencies.”

At , headed the emergency operations center (EOC), which is housed in the former probate court, who said there was a “great representation of department heads” and other organizations including the electric companies, East Shore Health District and the Red Cross.

In addition to Seward, some others in attendance included , Lieutenant David D'Ancicco, Town Engineer Kurt Weiss, Public Works Director Fran Merola, Interim Town Manager and many others.

While the drill wasn’t mandated by Malloy, municipalities were strongly encouraged to take part in order to test their emergency operations plan. In addition to seeing how their plans worked, participating towns also received a $1,200 stipend.

“The emergency operations plan is a very complex document that allows the community to deal with any type of extraordinary event,” said Seward. “It provides guidelines to handle evacuations, traffic issues, search and rescue, public health, sheltering, mass care and feeding, management of pets and evacuees and more. The end result of this drill lets you know whether or not your plan works and allows you to make modifications where it fell short.”

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The Drill

The exercise simulated a Category 3 hurricane hitting the State of Connecticut. North Branford officials gathered at the EOC on July 30 from 8 a.m. to noon and July 31 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to operate as if under a state of emergency, during which the town manager holds authority over the town’s assets.

The state provided information and scenarios throughout the drill, which the town’s administration had to discuss and respond to via email. Seward stressed the importance of the state’s electronic communication system, which allowed a “two-way flow of real-time information.”

As a , the biggest focus of the drill was the . A representative from Wallingford Electric attended the drill on Monday and UI also sent representatives.

“After the inadequacies from and last year, we saw a significant positive difference in the way the liaisons from UI interfaced with us,” said Seward. “Wallingford Electric also greatly improved their response.”

Seward noted that a number of changes have been made to procedure at the electric companies after last year’s power outages, including a “much improved flow of information, which is vital to restoring power.”

Many towns also have to worry about running shelters for evacuees, however, North Branford is one of three area shelters established through the American Red Cross. In a state of emergency, the Red Cross will use North Branford as a shelter, as it is in the center of Region 2, taking a burden off of the administration.

“The American Red Cross would be the shelter operators and we would provide support so the North Branford community would certainly benefit from the assets of American Red Cross,” he said.

The Results

In addition to seeing improvement from the power companies’ responses and the benefits of teaming up with the American Red Cross, Seward felt that the exercise was a positive experience for the town.

“This really served as a mechanism to train many of the department heads,” said Seward. “Many of them have never been a participant in something like this before.”

Seward is hoping this is only the beginning as far as training for the town’s department heads since the response to these types of emergencies is “very technical.”

“Fire, police and public works respond to these types of situations all the time and are trained to operate in disaster mode,” said Seward. “Disaster management is much different than sitting at a desk with all of the equipment needed and all the time you need to make a decision.”

agreed that more training would be beneficial and plans to further train department heads are already in the works. 

"We still have some issues, but now we know what they are and will be able to work on them to be better prepared for next time," said .

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