Jul 30, 2014
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What Tolland Learned from Tropical Storm Irene

Emergency Management Director John Littell reflects on Tropical Storm Irene on its one-year anniversary.

It's been quite a year for Tolland's town employees and first responders. Between to the and, they've had to deal with a number of extreme and unexpected situations.

For Emergency Management Director, Public Safety Director and Fire Chief John Littell, Tolland's year of unusual weather has shown him that the town can never be one hundred percent prepared.

"You'll never be able to predict Mother Nature," he said, looking back at Tolland's Tropical Storm Irene response. Irene knocked out power for most of the town on August 28, one year ago.

"Irene was a great tabletop drill for preparing for a hurricane," he said. "But the October snowstorm is what really maximized the system here, in general. We have to stress residents to have their own contingency plans."

Citing that he has never seen such extended power outages in town as he has this year, he said that residents have to be able to sustain themselves for several days, in order to relieve the demand on limited local resources.

"There's only so much the town government can do to assist and help," he said.

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However, he did say that the town has taken steps after the storms to increase preparedness. The high school building is now being properly wired to run on a generator as a large shelter for residents, as was originally planned when the building was being constructed. Town hall also has a new generator that will be up and running within the next few months. The Department of Public Works has purchased some new equipment that will enable town crews to respond better to storm damage, he added.

And on a personal level, Littell and the first responders learned what their limits and strengths are under long-term emergency situations.

"That was a great exercise to go through. We deal with long nights and long days, but it's usually over and done with in a day and a half. You really get to your people and you really get to know your residents. There were people who came out that were above and beyond," he said.

He said that stories of volunteerism are still coming to his attention a year later.

"There was a lot of stuff that never made it to the paper, and the residents don't want recognition," Littell said. He has learned of residents who went door-to-door, helping neighbors hook up generators and neighborhoods banding together to get through the days without power.

"I bet on every street, people built relationships. And if something ever happens again, there will be that relationship there."

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