FREEPORT — An audio recorder sat on a chair in the middle of the room Nov. 16 when the Town Council heard feedback about the town’s response to the Oct. 30 storm that left most of the town without power for a week.
The meeting would normally have been televised, but the town’s broadcast control equipment was damaged by the storm.
Councilors were joined by town staff, representatives from the police, public works, and fire departments, and about a half-dozen residents.
The most significant take away from the discussion was the need to update the town’s Emergency Operations Plan and improve communications with Central Maine Power Co.
Fire Chief Charlie Jordan said his communication with CMP was cut off late on Oct. 30 – an issue the town hopes to discuss with CMP representatives at a meeting to be held by the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency Dec. 13.
“CMP went silent on us (and) … would no longer take requests from the dispatch center in Brunswick. They sent our dispatch people into a normal queue of customers,” Jordan said. “We finally got contact with CMP sometime late Wednesday afternoon.”
CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice, however, later denied any communication cut-offs. She said CMP asked to have county emergency management agencies funnel requests through Maine’s Emergency Management Agency when service centers became overloaded with conflicting priorities.
“CMP did not stop taking calls or cut off communications with Freeport or any other town,” Rice said. “People in all of our service centers, including Brunswick, continued to take calls even after we requested that calls be funneled through County EMAs and MEMA.”
Darrel Fournier – who served as the town’s fire chief for 25 years and formerly headed the area’s Emergency Management Association – said this was not the first time CMP “dropped the ball on power issues.”
“The storm overwhelmed them, they didn’t have enough people available,” he said.
Jordan said an update to the town’s emergency management plan is in the works, but he needs assistance from town staff and residents to make sure it is sufficient for future emergencies.
Fournier added that training town staff is crucial to future emergency management and should be a yearly occurrence.
Joyce Veilleux of the Cumberland County Incident Management Assistance team echoed Fournier’s ideas.
“Training is key,” she said. “You’ve got new people all over … everyone has to know the plan and I don’t think people did this time.”
Veilleux added that communication between town officials and residents should be improved.
“Information has to go up, down and to the sides and it’s the side part that’s difficult,” she said.
Resident Chris Wolfe said she doesn’t have a cell phone, so when her electricity was out, all communication with the town – both outgoing and incoming – was as well.
“The best way to get (information) out is the old fashioned way … snail mail,” Wolfe said.
Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy concurred that limited means of communication during the storm was her biggest concern.
“We do need to have a clear, distilled set of communications to our residents,” she said.
Nourse said sometimes the only thing you can do as a town official is go door-to-door to spread the word.
Jordan encouraged residents to sign up for a “reverse 9-1-1 system,” CodeRED, which is an emergency notification service by which public safety can notify residents and businesses by phone about emergency situations. The system is capable of sending messages to specific neighborhoods or the entire community.
Jordan said in order to improve communication, the town is developing a Facebook page. Public Works Director Neil Gibson added that he is in favor of using multiple platforms to communicate between the town and residents.
The town will also explore options for an Emergency Operations Center – equipped with a generator – where residents can go in future emergency situations.
“The conversation will be ongoing,” Tracy said. “This is just the start.”
Councilors urged anyone else who would like to provide comments about storm response to contact Town Manager Peter Joseph at 865-4743, ext. 118, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A driver travels around a fallen tree and under downed power lines on Upper Mast Landing Road in Freeport Oct. 31. At the time, town officials said 3,500 of Freeport’s 4,700 residents were without power.