After hearing from angry residents over how New Castle responded to Hurricane Sandy, town board members are looking for ways to improve communications with the public during future disasters.
At a Nov. 20 work session, officials discussed both short-term measures that could be implemented, and broader remedies that they would like to see Con Edison implement, which in turn could help with restoration work and the town in providing transparency.
Town Administrator Penny Paderewski told the board that the town will implement a robo-call system.
“That was the one piece we were missing," she said. The town is looking at prospective companies for providing the service, including Nixle, which provided email and text message alerts for the town during Sandy. Paderewski hopes that in “a very short period of time” there will be a system in place. A robo-call system, which was employed by the Chappaqua school district during its post-Sandy response, could also be used on a smaller scale. For example, Paderewski said, this could include simply notifying a residents of a block about a more localized problem in their neighborhood.
Building a database of phone numbers would need to be done, and ideas thrown out at the board meeting include giving forms to the school district to, in turn give to parents, having sign ups at stores and announce the service at board meetings.
Paderewski would also like to see the town get a mapping program that could display which streets are closed and be available to residents. During Sandy, the town, in its emergency operations center, was stuck with using a physical map and red marker to note closed streets.
Board members also gave attention to best practices from outside of town, and what could be done to improve communication from Con Edison.
Town Supervisor Susan Carpenter said that she went to a meeting in Greenburgh held by her counterpart, Paul Feiner, where ideas for communication improvement came up. Examples included, she explained, having yard signs direct people to Internet access and warming shelter, which would help those whose do not have normal electronic means to get the news during an outage.
Paderewski, who was present at meetings earlier in the week of municipal officials - they included Con Edison's president and County Executive Rob Astorino - learned about the frustrations faced on a regional basis, and unusual measures to keep workers in the loop.
The communications problem, Paderewski explained, is not just between municipalities and the public, but rather it's within Con Edison itself, and between Con Edison and the out-of-state crews who provided restoration help.
“There were enormous communication break downs," she said. Examples she pointed to include a lack of GPS devices in trucks, and Con Edison liaisons to municipalities not having consistent levels of understanding for what's happening. In New Castle's case, Paderewski noted, its liaison did not even know where utility crews were working, a matter that caught the attention of a Con Edison official at the company's meeting.
Board members said that they will keep the community informed with updates on the topic.