Lincoln County Commissioners

Commissioners applaud EMA, Communications, for storm response

Posted:  Wednesday, November 8, 2017 - 8:45am
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The Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency and the Communications Department had something of a trial by fire the week of Oct. 30. And as of Tuesday, Nov. 7,  the county still had 1,743 roads with at least one customer out of power. Most roads were finally open, but some roads where electric poles need to be replaced were still out of power.

As of Friday, Nov. 3, reported damage in Lincoln County was over $486,000. In order to receive a disaster declaration by the federal government, damage in the state of Maine has to exceed $1.9 million. Lincoln County’s meticulous accounting will go a long way toward reaching that level, County Administrator Carrie Kipfer said. 

Commissioners on Nov. 7 heard about the EMA and Communications teams’ response to the crisis. “You all did an incredible job,” Commissioner Mary Trescot said.

Without power, the EMA used generators to set up the Emergency Operation Center, which hadn’t been fully completed yet after its move from the Communications Center across the parking lot. Within a few hours, those involved arranged to have barricades and cones located centrally in Newcastle so town agencies could have access to them; identified warming stations and started a list of road closures; coordinated with Central Maine Power on power outages, and started distributing information to the media, including the Wiscasset Newspaper and the Boothbay Register, to provide information about where to get services. On Facebook and in the media, emergency officials encouraged people to take pictures of damage and send them to the EMA.  EMA director Casey Stevens said people can still send images to storm@lincounty.me,  or upload them to the Facebook page. They will organize all the images by town and send them to the towns.

As communications systems began to fail – three of the four towers were on emergency generators and two of them weren’t talking to one another due to wind damage – the amateur radio team was told to stand by. Most systems were revived with generators.

All week, Michelle Temple and Ken Desmond traveled to rural towns to assist with damage assessments. All 19 towns responded in time for the assessment for a disaster declaration.Tony Norman was called in to contact nonprofits about their damages, including nursing homes. One nursing home required a generator, and the EMA sent one over. One fire station also needed a generator, and, as of Tuesday, the communications tower in Jefferson was still operating under generator power. The wind damage has been repaired.

Stevens was most thankful that there were no reported injuries, despite all the damage. However, he said, he had been made aware of some “unsafe acts,” including people cutting trees in the roadway when power lines were involved, and driving around barricades where downed power lines were in the road. Some drivers got caught up in the lines and had to be rescued by the fire department, pulling CMP from other work to shut down power to the line involved.

“We’re still in recovery, and we will be off and on until a Presidential Declaration is declared,” Stevens said. “But after that we’ll have to consider other actions we could take to respond to another similar emergency.” He said his biggest concern during the crisis was the number of roads closed owing to downed power lines. “We couldn’t respond to those areas because the roads were closed, and there was no power,” he said. By Nov. 2, the local EMA directors and the Sheriff’s Office helped to count 143 broken CMP poles that would need to be replaced before power is fully restored.

He also said no overnight shelters opened in Lincoln County, which might have been a serious problem if the weather was colder. The nearest ones were in Bath and Augusta, although some hotel owners opened up their property to storm refugees, and some churches encouraged people to bring their thawing food to be cooked in their kitchens. Individual citizens took much of this food, from both the churches and restaurants who were out of power, and delivered it to people who were shut in. But there is no central list of people who are homebound. “That’s something we could possibly work on,” Kipfer said.

Director Joe Westrich of the Communications Department said his team of four fielded 353 calls for service during and immediately after the storm. The next day, they got another 292 calls, which kept them extremely busy. A fifth dispatcher served as a “scribe” getting information to and from the EMA in the courthouse basement. “We could use a ‘red phone’ to communicate with them now that they’re in the other building,” he said.

The microwave transmitter on one of the towers was knocked 35 degrees out of alignment. “If it is only one degree out of alignment, it can’t communicate with the next tower,” Westrich said. It was fixed on Tuesday, Nov. 7, but Jefferson remained on generator power, he said.

In other news, commissioners gave approval to hire Zachary R. Barry, who is living in East Boothbay following military service, as a full-time patrol deputy; approved spending for out of state training for two deputies; approved funds to repair one of the recycling trucks’ transmissions; heard concerns from Bristol about Charter Communications’ plan to move LCTV from Channel 7 to Channel 13-01, and agreed to write a letter to Charter on behalf of Bristol; and applauded Communications Supervisor Kathy Blagdon’s naming as Atlantic Region Supervisor of the Year.