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Report Calls for Upgrades to Avert Storm Disasters

HARTFORD, Conn. – The state, towns and power companies are woefully unprepared to handle major weather disasters, and Connecticut would be virtually brought to a standstill for at least a month if a Category 3 Hurricane hit anytime soon.

That’s why vastly improved training, preparation, tree-trimming, power line infrastructure as well as communication and coordination among all agencies must be acted on quickly, according to a report submitted Thursday to Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Those are among the 82 recommendations included in the 35-page report prepared by the Two-Storm Panel that Malloy appointed after Hurricane Irene in August and the historic October nor’easter left a record 809,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers in the dark – many for more than a week.

The eight-member panel will vote Monday at 9:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building on making the report official.

“We have prepared a very comprehensive document of disaster preparedness in the state of Connecticut, and clearly there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said panel Co-Chairman Joseph McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

“But this isn’t so much a report that is meant to point fingers and blame at anyone. It’s more of an in-depth study on what needs to be done to deal with future storms,” said McGee.

“The two storms we experienced within a two-month period were very serious, but they were not even close to a Category 3 Hurricane, and there’s a great deal to improve on to curtail the devastating impact of such a storm when it does hit the state,” said McGee, adding ominously, “which all the experts advise us is due in the near future.”

In preparing the report, the panel considered nearly 800 pages of testimony from nine public sessions, including a report by the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, James Lee Witt.

His Washington, D.C., firm, Witt Associates, said CL&P was not only unprepared for the storms but also made “critical mistakes and was seriously undermanned” during the Oct. 29 snowstorm. Witt also stated that in CL&P’s preparation for a "worst-case scenario" the utility had planned for only 100,000 customers to lose power.

While McGee said making the utilities “more resilient up front with improved and updated infrastructure,” he added that “one of the big questions will be how much money the public is willing to have spent to accomplish that.”

It would cost $2.2 billion over 10 years to upgrade power lines and infrastructure to achieve a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in power outages and restoration time, CL&P officials said last month. That would mean a rate hike of about $13 monthly for the average customer by the time the upgrades are complete, or about $150 a year.

But that may be necessary, officials say, as nearly half of the state’s power lines and infrastructure have exceeded their 40-year lifespans – with some power lines and other equipment hitting the age of 70.

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