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West Hartford Prepares for Possible Impact from Hurricane Sandy

West Hartford isn't yet at the stage of opening the Emergency Operations Center, but town officials are making sure they are prepared for the possibility of another major storm on the anniversary of last October's cataclysmic event.

As forecasts from the National Weather Service and storm-tracking models show an increasing likelihood of the Northeast facing at least some impact from Hurricane Sandy, West Hartford town officials are taking steps to ensure that everything is already.

"I didn't think we'd be dealing with a storm this weekend," said Mayor Scott Slifka Thursday morning. He had already been in touch with Interim Fire Chief Gary Allyn, who chairs the Emergency Operations Committee, and said plans were underway for mobilization. Allyn, Slifka, and Town Manager Ron Van Winkle will make the decision to open the Emergency Operations Center if needed.

Allyn said he met with all department heads, and everyone had their tasks outlined. "We're getting the shelters ready and have been in contact with CL&P," Allyn said. Staff is already mobilized to work extended shifts if needed.

"We will physically be moving items into the shelters tomorrow," said Allyn, and confirmed that Elmwood Community Center would be the primary shelter location since the electrical work for installing a generator at Conard High School has not yet been completed.

Director of Public Works John Phillips sent an email to staff and town management Thursday morning, detailing his department's advance preparation for a storm which could affect West Hartford as early as Sunday night – exactly one year after last October's freak snowstorm slammed through the area and left residents in the dark for as long as two weeks.

"I still think this is 51 percent on the hype side, but for the other 49 percent I am not going to drop the ball," said Phillips, an administrator who has developed a reputation for being extremely organized and well-prepared.

Phillips is ensuring that all Public Works Department trucks are fully fueled, and has asked drivers to make sure lights, wipers, tires, and ancillary equipment is in good working order.

"Our priority right now is getting the culverts clean," Phillips said. "This looks like it might be more like [Tropical Storm] Irene, with heavy rain and damaging wind."

Phillips sent an email out this morning, asking department members to be prepared with their safety equipment such as batteries, caution tape, ropes and climbing gear, as well as rain gear and boots. He has requested a status report by the end of Thursday.

"Please keep a journal record of your activity in preparation for any FEMA programs as a result of this storm event," wrote Phillips in the email. He knows what it takes to apply for FEMA reimbursement after working on thousands of pages of documentation as a result of last October's storm.

Phillips said it appears that fall is farther along with the tree canopy lighter this year than it was for last October's storm, and is hopeful that much of the wind will blow through the leafless trees.

"We will be monitoring the conditions closely, and I have no plans to declare a state of emergency unless it's necessary," said Slifka. "I'm hoping this will be all for naught."

Slifka urges residents to sign up for Everbridge, the town's emergency notification system. Signing up is quick and easy, and only takes a minute, but he's surprised that so few have registered. Residents can sign up through the Town of West Hartford website, or by clicking here. "As conditions warrant, we will be sending information out through that system," said Slifka.

"I honestly feel good about what CL&P will do this time. Am I apprehensive? Sure. But I think CL&P now has a better process for bridging the communications gap, even if we have another 11-day outage," said Phillips.

"My comfort level going into this is totally different. We had never trained before. Structure is important. We're in a good spot this time," Phillips said.

Slifka said that his 4-year-old daughter, likely prompted by some grown-ups, asked yesterday, "Daddy, are you going to cancel Halloween again?" He said he sure hoped not.

Town officials said the prospect of another major storm on the anniversary of last year's unprecedented event is unbelievable. "You can't script this. You wouldn't believe it if someone pitched this idea for a movie. It sounds too phony," said Slifka.

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