WHITMAN — The town’s public safety crews received glowing praise for their work in response to the nor’easter that plunged the town into darkness Nov. 3. At the same time, Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said there were lessons learned — on both the positive and negative sides of the leger — to help improve response to the next weather emergency.
“Obviously that was a really big event and affected everyone in town and certainly the town departments quite a lot,” Heineman said. “I certainly wanted to commend [and express] deep appreciation for the police department … fire department … and the DPW. Both the water and sewer departments and the highway, grounds and parks. They really did an amazing job.”
The cleanup and work done to ensure water and sewer services continued to function despite no power was lauded, as well as the quick cleanup of down trees and branches and leaf-covered streets.
Positives that Heineman said he would like to continue during any future power outages included Clancy’s efforts to keep the pressure on National Grid to hasten its response.
“We certainly fared a lot better than some of our surrounding communities … with a very similar level of damage, we certainly got our power back a lot more quickly than a lot of our neighbors,” he said. “A lot of it is in no small part due to his persistence with that.”
The decision to expand the use and hours of warming and charging stations at Town Hall and the Senior Center was also popular with residents, especially in view of the failure of cell service.
“That was really well-received, from what I heard, and that’s certainly something I’d like to continue in the future, particularly when it’s cold,” Heimeman said.
He also said he plans to speak with DPW Superintendent Bruce Martin about having a brush pile so residents have a place to get rid of felled branches.
Proof of residency would be required to deposit brush there.
Lack of responsiveness from National Grid and cell phone communications failure were pointed to as glaring negatives Heineman wants to see rectified following a storm recap meeting Thursday, Nov. 4.
“Some things are outside of our control,” Heineman said. “National Grid was not very responsive in terms of getting downed wires out of the road quickly so that [they could be] cleared in timely manner.”
Ultimately that could be a statewide issue, he said.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve it locally, but I wanted to make folks aware that was a very real challenge,” Heineman said.
Cell phone communications badly affected.
“That is a pretty new phenomenon,” he said pointing to a lack of back up generation for power at cell towers. “It was a real challenge for the town and for public safety folks.”
“I think it’s clear that because of the difficulty we had communicating without phones, if we didn’t have Josh McNeill it would have been more of a disaster,” Selectman Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said. He suggested that future budget planning should think seriously of getting some backup for him. He also lauded the Town Hall custodian Todd DeCouto, particularly in the setting up and assisting people at the charging station.
“The team came together,” Kowalski said.
“It’s the people who work behind the scenes that you don’t see that don’t get the recognition [they deserve],” Selectman Dan Salvucci. Heineman added kudos to the CERT team for their disaster respons
Heineman said it might be time think about targeted capital items to make town more resilient, including digital radios in case of future cell communications failures as well as more wood chippers and generator upgrades at sewer treatment plants.
Selectman Justin Evans asked how the streetlights fared in the first real test since the town took over maintenance responsibilities.
“We did not have any major loss. We may have lost one or two,” Heineman said.