With the anniversary of a brutal 2011 nor'easter just a few days away, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and utility officials warned Connecticut Friday to brace for another major storm with the potential to cause prolonged, widespread outages and other major damage.
But leaders of Connecticut Light & Power Co., United Illuminating and AT&T also said their networks are better prepared for Hurricane Sandy -- which could first touch the Nutmeg State Sunday night -- than they were for either of the two 2011 storms that combined to cause more than 1.4 million outages.
"That's simply what happens when Mother Nature decides to strike," Malloy told Capitol reporters after a meeting with utility officials, adding that "Connecticut residents are resilient and understanding."
According to the National Weather Service, Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane that could make landfall on Sunday in central New Jersey with strong winds and heavy rain. Category 1 is the mildest of five categories defined by the weather service.
The storm's first impact upon Connecticut could be felt as early as Sunday night, and depending on its track, could bring sustained winds of 40 mph.
And while this storm is not expected to trigger the heavy snowfall that accompanied the nor'easter that struck the state Oct. 29, 2011, Malloy said one of its principal dangers lies in the unusual projected duration.
Unlike other major storms, that typically run for 12 to 18 hours, this hurricane could last as long as 36 hours, continuing through Tuesday, the governor said.
With that comes the threat of significant power outages and flooding, particularly in low-lying communities along the shoreline and near rivers.
"We are planning and preparing as if this will have a significant impact on the state," Malloy said, urging residents to take a number of steps themselves, including:
- Purchasing adequate supplies of food, water and gasoline to sustain them through the middle of next week;
- Ensuring they have flashlights and radios, as well as the batteries needed to power them;
- And checking on elderly neighbors who may not be able to prepare themselves.
If power is lost during or after the storm, the governor said residents with cellphones can preserve power charges on their device by sending text messages rather than making calls.
Residents in need of shelter can find details about open sites by calling the state's Infoline at 2-1-1. Households can sign up for automated alerts about the storm by visiting the state's website at www.ct.gov/ctalert
The governor and utility leaders also expressed optimism that Connecticut's response to any storm-related problems would be better this year than in 2011.
There was little public criticism of state and municipal services, either following Tropical Storm Irene in late August 2011, or after the October nor'easter.
Still, government agencies at both levels participated in a major emergency drill conducted over four days this past July.
Most of the criticism last year was leveled at utilities, and particularly at CL&P.
More than 671,000 CL&P customers and another 158,000 homes and businesses served by United Illuminating were without power during the peak following Irene.
Outages topped out after the October storm at more than 807,000 for CL&P and 19,000 for UI.
CL&P absorbed the bulk of criticism, needing nine days to restore all power after the August storm, and 12 days after the October event.
Shortly after the last 2011 storm, then-CL&P President Jeffrey Butler resigned, and the company announced new administrative assignments to improve readiness for future storms. The company had failed to make power restoration deadlines following the October storm, and Butler had conceded that CL&P had struggled to secure the private contractors it needed in a timely fashion.
A study panel formed by Malloy concluded that CL&P failed to adequately prepare for a scenario that involved more than 100,000 outages.
"Everyone has learned lessons from the last storm," said Malloy, who was joined by CL&P's new senior vice president for emergency preparedness, Bill Quinlan.
"We are making extensive outreach efforts" to mobilize line repair and tree removal crews faster, Quinlan said, adding that the company expects to have 2,000 workers in the state by the end of Sunday.
"There is a very significant demand along the Eastern Seaboard for line crews" because of the path Hurricane Sandy is taking, Quinlan said, adding that CL&P largely is reaching out to other utilities and to private crews based in the Midwest for assistance.
The company also spent about $60 million over the past year to double efforts to trim tree branches near power lines, Quinlan added.
"We feel we are spot on with what we need to do," said UI Senior Vice President John Prete, who added the Fairfield County-based utility hopes to have 250 workers available.
And John Emra, regional vice president for AT&T, said the utility has replaced batteries at "several hundred" cell tower sites, and installed new "quick connections" systems that help towers shift more quickly to backup power in the event of prolonged outages.