Wilton reflects on Sandy's historic impact

Hurricane Sandy cut a swath of unparalleled destructiveness throughout the East Coast — and gave Wilton’s emergency services their toughest test yet.

Addressing the Kiwanis Club last week, First Selectman Bill Brennan described the Oct. 29 storm as “catastrophic” and “the pièce de résistance” to last year’s two powerful storms, Tropical Storm Irene and the Halloween snowstorm.

“Sandy was a massive storm, about 1,000 miles wide, with a huge potential for damage,” Mr. Brennan said.

Fire Chief Paul Milositz, who is also the town’s emergency management director, said when Sandy struck Wilton, the town went from 20% without power to approximately 50% within one hour. The storm eventually knocked 83% of the town off the grid.

Police Chief Michael Lombardo said the Police Department switchboard was lighting up with “10 times the normal volume of calls.” However, Chief Lombardo said, the storm posed such dangers that all emergency personnel were pulled off the roads and out of harm’s way, something he had never seen in his 32-year career in law enforcement. The storm also closed 122 roads in town.

In the wake of the storm, the emergency services department set up a “bunker” in town hall — a control center to coordinate the recovery process.

Chief Milositz said the town’s emergency personnel and department of public works routinely met with CL&P liaisons and had briefings with Gov. Dannell Malloy and other state officials.

One key effort was communications, Chief Milositz said, which ranged from phone and text Code Red messages and alerts to email blasts and messages on Twitter and Facebook, along with messages on the town website and places in town, such as Orem’s Diner and the Village Market. “The more messages the better,” Chief Milositz said. “If it seemed like overkill, we did our job.”

Chief Milositz said the first few days of the storm recovery were dedicated “make safe” efforts that involved clearing roads and moving downed power lines. After that, power restoration began to take place.

Power restoration is conducted by CL&P based upon “damage, population density and crew availability,” Mr. Brennan said, emphasizing the town has no say in the plan. The town does set priorities for places like nursing homes and schools.

An audience member questioned CL&P’s response in Wilton, and Mr. Brennan said he believes the utility has “made improvements,” citing its tree-trimming program, which help avoid damage on School Road, for example.

“We’re married to this power company, let’s not beat them up,” Mr. Brennan said. “They are doing better, but they have a long way to go in terms of customer service.”

Mr. Brennan also said that with such a devastating storm, “an element of patience” is called for.

The town and state were “better prepared for Sandy,” he said, in part because of emergency preparedness drills, orchestrated on June 22 by the town and June 29 by the state.