Vt. Reviews Lessons From Tropical Storm Irene

10/05/12 7:30AM By Steve Zind
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Photo/Nick Baker
Grafton Street near Chester after Tropical Storm Irene

In the months after Tropical Storm Irene the state held listening sessions in dozens of Vermont communities to learn how to improve disaster response and recovery. 

This week, officials issued a summary of what they heard and a list of recommendations. 

Last winter, officials from lots of state agencies held meetings like this one in Waterbury, to hear from local officials and residents. 

There's plenty of good news in the report in terms of the way communities responded to Irene. 

But the Community Recovery Partnership report says a number of issues came up in the meetings.   

One was planning. 

According to the report, some towns had Emergency Coordinators who were appointed without their knowing about it.  Clearly today there's a greater appreciation of the importance of that position - and the need for towns to have an up-to-date emergency response plan.  

Communication was another big topic. 

Better cell phone coverage and backup power would have helped those areas that were isolated and without electricity. 

Local officials had problems tracking down the right people to talk to at the state level and when they did the answers were sometimes inconsistent. 

The state is updating its emergency operation plan to address the confusion.  That's one of a number of steps the reports says have been taken to respond to local needs. 

Beyond the immediate response to the storm, the community meetings also tackled long range concerns. 

Noelle MacKay is Commissioner Of Department of Economic, Housing, & Community Development, which issued the report.  She says a number of state agencies will work with towns to prepare for future floods.

MacKay says a federally funded pilot project in the Mad River Valley is designed to look at local planning with an eye toward future disasters and could be a model for other towns.

The report also points out problems beyond the state's ability to address, like complaints about FEMA coverage and confusion and frustration over flood insurance.  

MacKay says the state and Vermont's congressional delegation will push for changes that might make the recovery process run better in any future disaster.

Download the Community Recovery Partnership Report (pdf).

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