N.H. Emergency Chief: Storm Severity Was Surprising

Nov 6, 2017

In addition to the high winds and heavy rain of last week's storm, several other factors contributed to the fourth largest power outage in state history -- with a price tag in the millions, and counting. That's according to Perry Plummer, director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"We had hurricane force winds and they were relatively unpredicted up until right before the storm. So it was a challenge for all emergency services -- whether it be at the local level, the state level, and certainly utility companies," Plummer said on The Exchange.  Listen to the full conversation here.

"We knew we would have some power outages; we knew this was going to be a decent storm. I think that across the state we were thinking 30,000 to 40,000 people in pockets would experience outages, and I think everybody mobilized based on that."

The numbers would prove far worse, with as many as 277,000 households affected, amounting to almost half a million people without power.  For many, recovery would take many days.  

 

"And it was all the way from Seabrook to Pittsburg, from the east coast to the west coast of our state. So that made it particularly challenging," Plummer said.

 Some winds reached 70 mph, Plummer said, and sustained winds took down trees that had been weakened by both drought and flooding.  And those trees took down power lines.  

Plummer said that despite vast improvements in predicting weather, unpredictability remains a possibility. He said emergency crews did prepare days ahead of the storm but didn't expect the winds to last as long as they did -- and at such strength.  If they'd known, they would have marshaled utility crews from elsewhere in the country ahead of time.  

"The other challenge for all of us was that Maine got hit really bad; Massachusetts got hit really bad. So it really challenges our mutual aid system -- for both utility crews and for emergency services, because everybody's dealing with their own damage and their own disaster." 

Also a challenge: Utility workers are still helping with cleanup after natural disasters in Houston, Puerto Rico, and Florida. 

 

"That does challenge the emergency response mutual aid system," Plummer said. "But it's a national mutual aid system that is pretty well-defined and pretty well-organized. If anybody does it right across this country, the utility companies do." 

 "The fact that we had the storm of this magnitude with at this point we have no reports of any serious injuries is pretty remarkable. It says a lot for the workers that are out there in dangerous conditions. And it also says a lot for the public that use good common sense and heed those warnings, " he said. "Keep in mind these winds were sustained. So you can't put someone in a  bucket truck at 50 mile-an-hour winds. So you have to wait for those winds to die down before that restoration can start."  

Also surprised by the severity of the storm was Eversource, according to the utility's president, Bill Quinlan.

 

"You know it's certainly intensified over the course of the day. On Sunday the winds intensified and the amount of rainfall was higher than the meteorologists were predicting and that combination resulted in a significant impact on our system. You know entire trees were coming over as opposed to just branches and that tends to do a lot of damage." 

He said he expects the cost of damage to reach about $30 million to $40 million. 

On personal preparedness, Plummer has some new guidelines:  

"We've always said prepare for 72 hours, with food, water, medications, all those things that you need. But really with all the weather events that's going on and all the things that are happening, we're really pushing that to seven days and we're really recommending look at 14 days,  because our first responders are stressed," he said. 

 Other recommendations: 

  • Go to ReadyNH.gov for tips. 
  • If you can afford a generator, certainly that's the best thing to do; make sure it's hooked up correctly and run correctly.
  • From a recovery standpoint, buy flood insurance: a national flood insurance program is available. That takes some of the angst off -- knowing that you're going to actually recoup your cost, should you get flooded.
  • Make sure emergency kit has essential items.
  • Make sure that you have phone numbers and cell phone chargers and figure out how to charge a cell phone.

And Plummer offered this cautionary thought:  "Had this been January with below zero temperatures,  power restoration would have taken longer. And there certainly would have been more danger, from a safety standpoint. So, really take the time to go to ReadyNH.gov, take the time to talk to your family and self-prepare. These types of storms are going to continue to happen. And we really need the public's help, because we're all in this together."