Post-Snowstorm: Officials agree city websites must do better job informing

Improving the information on city websites during emergencies, such as the major snowstorm of Feb. 8 and 9, was discussed at a Wednesday night Board of Aldermen committee meeting.

Aldermen and public safety officials present agreed the websites didn’t do a good enough job after the early February storm. The city received about three feet of snow, and plows couldn’t reach some locations for a few days, leaving some people stuck in their homes.

The city has a main website at cityofshelton.org and some individual municipal agencies have websites as well, including the Emergency Management Department (sheltonemergency.com) and Police Department (sheltonpolice.net).

 

Who is in charge of the websites?

The question of who is in charge of maintaining the websites came up. Alderman Jack Finn said the city only has a part-time webmaster now.

Police Chief Joel Hurliman told aldermen that more than one person needs to be able to update the websites, and therefore additional people will need to be trained. “You’ll have to have more than one person who can do that,” Hurliman said.

Hurliman said Mayor Mark Lauretti has acknowledged “we were behind the curve on the website.”

Alderman John P. Papa, Public Health and Safety Committee chairman, said it’s vital the websites have up-to-date information during major emergencies. During those times, people often are seeking guidance and assurance on what is happening.

 

Phone messages important, too

Most of the Public Health and Safety Committee meeting focused on possibly hiring an outside firm for reverse 9-1-1 emergency calls to the public, but aldermen and the officials present said websites also play an important role in keeping the public informed during emergencies. This can include during major snowstorms, hurricanes, fires, crime incidents and environmental disasters.

Some people prefer to get information from the Internet rather than phone calls, they said. But they also noted that not everyone — particularly senior citizens — may have access to a computer.

 

Learning from the experience

Papa asked public safety officials for suggestions on what could be done differently to improve the situation when emergencies do occur. “We all could learn from this experience,” Papa said of the recent snowstorm.

Aldermen and officials appeared to agree that communication after the snowstorm between municipal departments — such as police, fire, EMS and emergency management — was good.

Fire Chief Fran Jones said all the city departments kept in contact with each other and “improvised” when necessary due to the circumstances, such as by using snowmobiles and four-wheel-drive vehicles or hiking through snow carrying stretchers to reach medical emergency locations. “Everyone pulled together,” Jones said.

Alderman Noreen McGorty said there was “no venue” for the public to gain access to the latest information, however. “It was the residents who didn’t know what was going on,” McGorty said.

 

Contractors, needed equipment scarce at first

John Millo, emergency management director, said Shelton had up to four feet on snow in some spots. Millo said this meant plows couldn’t move the snow and payloaders were needed. Many private contractors and needed pieces of equipment — such as payloaders — were hard to get at first because the state had them, he said.

Papa agreed the snow totals were almost overwhelming. “We haven’t had that much snow in years,” he said.

Millo said he thinks Shelton did well with snow removal compared to other some towns, noting accumulated snow in roadways remained a problem near his office in Stratford for an extended period as well.

Papa noted, “We’re not the only town that had problems.”

 

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