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Mayor: Emergency Operations Center to Open Saturday as Hurricane Irene Nears

In "calm before the storm," residents prepare. Things will go downhill quickly on Saturday.

Friday’s weather was sunny and warm, with clear skies and barely a breeze. There was no hint of impending danger, unless you read or listened to the news reports. Beginning Saturday, things will go downhill quickly.

“As of now, we’re being told that the timetable for the storm’s arrival has been moved up,” said Mayor Scott Slifka on Friday evening. He anticipates that the eye of the storm may pass through Central Connecticut – and the West Hartford area – around daybreak on Sunday. Slika has been told that winds may reach 90-100 mph in West Hartford.

Many residents spent a sunny Friday – the literal “calm before the storm” – preparing for Irene’s arrival by safely storing deck furniture and other exterior objects that could become airborne. Sales of water, batteries, and non-perishable foods were brisk at area grocery and drug stores, and some shelves were already bare. There was a long line for gas at the station in Elmwood, and at least one local gas station had closed, placing “out of gas” signs on all of their pumps.

“The Emergency Operations Center is ready, and will be operational on Saturday,” said Slifka. He said that the center would remain open through at least Monday or Tuesday, until the aftermath of the storm has been handled.

West Hartford has implemented a parking ban which takes effect at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and will remain in effect until it is no longer needed. The opening of the emergency shelter has been moved up to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“We are stressing that the shelter is for emergencies only,” said Slifka. It is designed for those who have special needs, or those whose homes become uninhabitable, in the case of roof damage or flooding that encroaches on living areas. Others should remain in their own homes throughout the storm whenever possible.

The mayor praised town management, especially Interim Fire Chief Gary Allyn who is directing the emergency operations effort, for the “military-like operation” arranging West Hartford’s response.

Slifka did not recall a time in recent history when West Hartford needed to garner forces together to deal with so many potential dangers – widespread power outages, flooding, wind damage. “The last time West Hartford set up an Emergency Operations Center was probably for Hurricane Gloria,” he said. Emergency management has changed and matured significantly since that 1985 storm.

“All relevant departments will be represented at the Emergency Operations Center,” Slifka said. Together, they hope to be able to respond efficiently to residents’ calls to the hurricane emergency line: 860-523-5203.

“I’ll get there late Saturday night,” anticipated Slifka, who said the majority of staffers will arrive at the center by 4 a.m. Sunday. “We will stay as long as it takes.”

West Hartford will do its best to communicate with residents throughout the storm’s duration. The List Serve, WHC-TV, the website www.westhartford.org, and West Hartford’s new Twitter account @WestHartfordPD, will all be updated as relevant information develops.

The town is also using the Everbridge Emergency Notification System to keep residents informed. All town landlines are already listed in the system, and will get automatic updates through this “reverse 911” system. Those who want to receive updates on cellphones or via email can sign up on the Everbridge website. A successful test message was sent out on Friday evening.

Slifka hopes residents will remain calm and understanding as the town cleans up during and after the storm. “We urge residents to have patience. There will be basement flooding, and the fire department probably won’t be able to do anything about it at the height of the storm. In addition to flooding, we’ll be flooded with calls.”

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