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Norwalk Fire Chief to Storm Panel: "Make Upgrades"

HARTFORD, Conn. – It is imperative that "essential computer upgrades" are made by the state to improve communication and relief efforts during disasters, Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy told a special state task force Friday.

Software already used on a state website should be made available to all local communities to allow police, fire and EMS crews to more quickly identify downed power lines and trees, McCarthy told the Two-Storm Panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

"They (state agencies) have the technology for communities to better communicate with the state and surrounding towns during power outages so we can find blocked roads and trapped people faster, and better communicate with each other and the public," said McCarthy, president of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association.

"But right now we have to rely on faxes and telephones at a time when there are far superior communications systems available that would help us on coordination and relief efforts," he said.

The software from the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security would also help towns and cities to better communicate with the state's Emergency Operations Center – and with each other, McCarthy said. He added that regional and local relief efforts could be coordinated to help the most vulnerable people first

McCarthy said that with more people using cellphones as their only telephone service, cellphone towers should have backup generators to keep service going during major storms.

The fire chief also told the panel that during dangerous storms such as the October nor'easter and Hurricane Irene in August, more in-state and out-of-state work crews are needed to clear roads, fallen trees and dangerously exposed power lines.

"There was a severe lack of work crews during the storms that had a significant impact on restoring power," McCarthy said. "We had people without power for days. Something must be done to ensure we have enough people on the ground to speed up relief efforts and help restore power."

McCarthy was among about a half dozen police, fire and emergency disaster officials to make presentations Friday. The officials advised the panel that communications and rescue efforts must be improved for critically ill people who rely on electricity and are at great risk during power outages.

"These are people who would not survive long without power-operated oxygen and respirators," McCarthy said.

Panel Co-Chairman Joseph McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County said "It is very clear now that there is a broad range of issues that must be addressed so that communication, relief efforts and (speeding up) power restoration are greatly improved during weather disasters."

The panel will hold hearings through December and submit a report with recommendations to Malloy in mid-January, McGee said.

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