As Hurricane Sandy continues to barrel closer to the Northeast, projected to make landfall along the Central New Jersey coast by Monday evening according to the National Weather Service, West Hartford officials continue to make preparations to ensure the safety of its residents.
Late Sunday afternoon, Assistant Superintendent for West Hartford Public Schools announced that schools will be closed on Monday, Oct. 29.
"We are at countdown to landfall," said Interim Fire Chief Gary Allyn, who chairs West Hartford's Emergency Operations Committee. Allyn said that Sandy appears to be following the forecasted models, with the highest winds for this area expected to occur between 6 a.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Allyn said that the amount of rain predicted to fall in 48 hours is now estimated at 2 to 4 inches, but wind which is expected to blow steadily at 30 to 50 mph for an extnded period of time is the greatest concern for the area.
Director of Public Works John Phillips doesn't think we will be overwhelmed with rain, "which will probably come in pulses," and will be something our storm drain system can handle.
"Our culverts are all open and clear, and should run fine for the flow," he said. He continues to ask residents to keep leaves out of the streets and make sure nearby storm drain grates are kept cleared.
The sustained wind, Phillips said, will result in a greater chance of toppling entire trees. "Pines are particularly susceptible to high winds of long duration, and that is more worrisome," he said. Although the work done trimming branches that could impact power lines won't hurt, that can't do anything about a 100-foot tree that stands on someone's property 50 feet away from the wires, said Phillips.
Phillips said a decision on delaying trash pickup will be made Sunday evening.
Backup generators have now been installed at West Hartford Town Hall and Conard High School. However, the town does not plan to open its shelter until after the storm passes and a damage assessment is made. If West Hartford does open a shelter, Elmwood Community Center will be the primary facility, with Conard being brought on line if a secondary shelter is needed.
A backup generator at Town Hall is critical, Allyn said, because the town needs to maintain power for its phone and internet systems.
Allyn said the first priority will be keeping roads open, and after that will be repairing outages. Phillips said Sunday afternoon that his department has been "making sure the equipment is ready and staff is well-rested.
Phillips said he has already had advance contact with CL&P liaison Anne Bartosewicz, "which is a positive that did not happen during last year's storm."
CL&P has made arrangements for linemen to be embedded with the Department of Public Works. "Unless they are overwhelmed with 911 calls, we expect to have a line crew working directly with us. That alone, working with our tree crews, is a huge benefit to the town," Phillips said.
"We've done what we've got to do – battening down the hatches," said Allyn. He urged all residents to continue to protect their property, prepare for the storm, and keep an eye on the news.
In addition, Allyn stressed that all residents should sign up for both Everbridge and the Connecticut Emergency Alert Notification System as soon as possible. Although the state's system automatically calls all landline phones in the white pages (whether listed or unlisted), cell phones and email addresses are only included if they are added manually, he said.
Allyn explained that Everbridge, which is West Hartford's Community Advisory Notification System, is related to the state's emergency system, but is used to send out town-specific notifications as well as state-wide emergency notifications. To be certain of receiving all messages, residents need to be registered through both systems.
"The answer is, you need to sign up for both," Allyn said. Both systems can accommodate as many contact numbers and email addresses as you input, he said, so he advises that you add all of them. Both systems can also send out text messages, but that can be cumbersome with long messages. "We are working at sending out shorter text messages," said Allyn.
Click here to sign up for the Connecticut Alert Emergency Notification System. West Hartford's Community Advisory Notification System (powered by Everbridge) can be accessed directly through this link, or by going to the town's website and choosing the "Community Advisory Network" from the quick links on the town's website.
West Hartford plans to send out another alert message this afternoon, using both systems.
Many communities along the coastline, where flooding is expected to be devastating, have mandatory evacuations in place. "We are talking about extensive flooding, maybe the worst we’ve seen in 70 years. The worst will be late tomorrow night. The amount of water the storm is expected to push into Long Island Sound is more than the shoreline can handle,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a briefing Sunday morning.