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Disaster Drills Urged for Storm Planning

HARTFORD, Conn. — Emergency drills for the power companies, state emergency personnel and police, fire and rescue crews from towns and cities across Connecticut must be conducted to prepare for future storm disasters, a state task force was told Tuesday.

"Enhanced training with advanced real-time disaster exercises is something we must seriously consider," panel Co-Chairman Joseph McGee said after Tuesday's hearing. "The state does some training, but the severity of these two storms has taken us to a whole new level.

"We must act in new and dramatic ways to ensure there is better coordination during future storms," said McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

October's nor'easter, as well as August's Hurricane Irene, caused prolonged record power outages, mostly as a result of poor planning and communications, delayed tree-trimming and an overall lack of coordination and preparedness, according to testimony Tuesday before the Two Storm Panel appointed by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

But McGee said the most chilling presentation was made by Paul Kirshen, a professor of civil engineering and research at the University of New Hampshire who has been studying climate change for 25 years.

Kirshen told the panel he is worried about protecting the coast from rising sea levels during storm surges and said climate change is causing tides to rise along the Eastern Seaboard at an alarming rate, including in Fairfield County.

That means more far more disastrous consequences are possible during winter storms and hurricanes unless something is done, he said. "The flood we see every 100 years could start to occur every 50 years," Kirshen told the panel.

"There's no way we can reverse climate change. The most we can hope for is slowing it down,'' he said. "How are we going to protect (places like) Bridgeport and Stamford? Connecticut is highly vulnerable to coastal flooding, and it would be best to plan now to manage the impact.''

The storm surges could rise 1 to 2 feet by mid-century and 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century, he said. Kirshen said infrastructure and bridges over rivers and sewage treatment plants along Connecticut's coast could be devastated by surging waters in future storms.

"This is, indeed, very sobering and disturbing," McGee said. "It turns out we are just as vulnerable as coastal areas like Boston and New York."

AT&T and Verizon also made presentations, and municipal officials complained about power company responses to both storms.

But officials for Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating Co. indicated they have started to examine ways to improve response during future weather disasters.

The panel will meet again Friday morning in Hartford. McGee said he expects a report with recommendations to be presented to Malloy in January.

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