Generators with insufficient power at some of the Solon intersections as well as the need to communicate earlier with residents are some areas of improvement cited in a windstorm response report outlined last week.
It was in association with a March storm that left some of the city without power for days and downed trees and wires.
Fire Chief William J. Shaw told the City Council Safety and Public Properties Committee last week that, while overall departments responded to and performed well under “trying and dynamic conditions,” there were areas that could be improved.
“It was comforting to see all the different departments going on auto pilot and for folks to step outside their normal job duties and go in disaster mode,” Chief Shaw said. “That is a testament to the training we have done and having an emergency plan for the city.
“I want to commend everyone for their efforts.”
Chief Shaw said that areas the city could do better is specifically associated with having a few more generators to work the intersections.
“The plan was not that so many intersections would go dark,” he said.
They did the best job they could in keeping main intersections moving, but not all intersections had portable generators.
“The city has 13 portable generators to power traffic control boxes during an emergency,” Chief Shaw said, and there are about 20 traffic control boxes along major thoroughfares that are pre-wired to accept an emergency generator.
“In order to most efficiently utilize personnel (not require someone to direct traffic) it is prudent to have an emergency generator for each traffic control box.
A lack of a backup generator also hindered proper jail operations, as only a portion of the police station has backup generator power. “The lack of generator power to other portions of the building,” particularly the jail, posed operational difficulties in a mission critical facility/function,” he said. “The jail is a vital 24/7 operation that should not be susceptible to this type of incident.”
The recommendation moving forward is to install an emergency generator with sufficient size to power either the entire building or, at a minimum, the portion of the building that currently does not have emergency generator power backup.
Police Chief Christopher P. Viland said the generator for his facility has never been sufficient to operate it.
“Based on this being a once-in-a-decade type of storm, we have it on our five-year capital plan for 2021,” Chief Viland said. “I don’t see a need to fast track it at this point, but we have certainly put it on our radar for full replacement.” He said the goal is a duel fuel generator so they are working off a natural gas line.
Chief Shaw continued of areas to be improved that on Monday following that weekend, it was determined that the Community Center was being opened as a warming shelter and this information needed to be communicated to residents without power.
“Normal communication channels would prove to be ineffective due to the power outage,” Chief Shaw said. “There was a low level of confidence that personal electronic devices still had battery life left after lacking charging capability for more than 24 hours.”
As a result, the fire department had to drive through neighborhoods and utilized vehicle loud speakers to alert residents that the Warming Shelter was available.
If this were to happen again, it is important to communicate resources available to residents via social media and other methods received on their personal portable electronic device “as early as possible in an incident.” And when possible, communicate to residents “pre-incident” the importance of fully charging their electronic devices.
Chief Shaw also said an emergency should have been declared.
“This declaration should be communicated to all department heads,” he continued. “This important step results in city staff considering the event not just in terms of their own department, but in a more global sense citywide.
“In addition, when this step is taken, an overall incident commander is assigned to coordinate the response of city resources,” Chief Shaw added.
Additional training of supervisors and managers in large scale, citywide events and emergencies is recommended.