October 22, 2014

Superstorm Sandy spares Williston

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A tree came down near North Williston Road, one of the few felled by Sandy. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

As Superstorm Sandy swirled up the Eastern Seaboard, setting record barometric lows and cutting a swath of devastation, the images that filtered through to television sets and computer screens were unbelievable yet indelible.

Boardwalks ripped to shreds on the Jersey Shore. Grand Central Station a ghost town. Blizzard conditions in West Virginia. Surfers catching 20-foot waves on Lake Michigan.

Thousands of flights were canceled during Sandy’s reign of destruction. Millions of people lost power. At least 50 lost their lives.

Yet Vermont, which is still recovering from Tropical Storm Irene’s full frontal attack in 2011, escaped comparatively intact.

According to a press release from Green Mountain Power, the hardest hit areas of Vermont were Bennington, Rutland, Washington, Windham and Windsor counties.

“We have a mass of assessors, tree-cutters, line workers and support staff spreading across those areas this morning,” GMP spokesman Jeremy Baker stated Tuesday in a press release.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm on Sunday, pledged Tuesday to provide resources to more storm-ravaged states.

As of noon on Wednesday, just 986 of GMP’s 36,037 storm-affected customers remained without power.

Williston, which fared better than many neighboring towns during Irene, was even luckier this time around.

Though Willistonians hunkered down and girded for the worst Monday evening, Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said his crew was called out just once during the night for what turned out to be a harmless downed telephone line.

“We were very, very fortunate,” Morton said. “In preparedness for anything that might have occurred, we had the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) at the fire station available and ready to go, but we never activated it, which means that although I spoke with the police chief and the public works director and the town manager and they all knew that we may open it, we never needed to.”

Morton said the EOC is a crisis management tool that serves as an extension of the fire department’s Incident Command System—a hierarchy of delegation based on the severity of an emergency event.

“On a day-to-day basis, every time we go to a call we’re really practicing the Incident Command System,” Morton said. “It’s really an operational system that’s used on scene, or in the case of a storm event, it’s a system that’s used based out of the EOC.”

Morton said that if Superstorm Sandy had hit Williston with full force, the ICS and EOC protocols would have involved Police Chief Todd Shepard, Town Manager Rick McGuire, Finance Director Susan Lamb and Public Works Director Bruce Hoar.

“It’s really a matter of the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing at all times,” Morton said. “No event is too small to practice the Incident Command System, and really, no event is too big for the Incident Command System not to work.”

Local schools also prepared for the worst, canceling afterschool programs on Monday and canceling school altogether on Tuesday. Elaine Pinckney, superintendent of Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said the decision to cancel Tuesday classes had already been made by Monday afternoon.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we go to bed and we wait to see if there’s a storm,” Pinckney said. “What was different about this one was the media hype and the eventual possibility of a catastrophic storm.”

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