Exercise held to improve city’s flood response plan

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WESTBROOK — The Presumpscot River running through the city offers Westbrook a unique feature not found in many communities, but it also puts the residential and commercial areas that line it in danger of flood damage.

The Westbrook Police Department joined public safety and municipal officials in the area Thursday, Oct. 25, for a tabletop exercise focusing on how the city should prepare and respond to flooding events. Attending were municipal department heads and representatives of Westbrook Housing Authority, Sappi, Unitil, American Red Cross, Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency, Maine Emergency Management Agency, Army National Guard, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Opportunity Alliance and Salvation Army.

The training scenario was a significant rainstorm that comes in April 2019 bringing 18 to 24 inches of rain over a three-day period, said Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts. As a result, the Presumpscot and Stroudwater rivers to overflow their banks, prompting emergency response.

Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said the scenario has played out in real life and could again in the future. The tabletop occurred almost 22 years to the date of a hurricane that dumped more than 18 inches of rain in the area, causing the Presumpscot and Stroudwater rivers to overflow and resulting in millions of dollars of damage in Westbrook.

“It is supposed to be a 100-year event, but with the right conditions and with natural disasters occurring more frequently or seeming to occur more frequently,” we need to be preparing more now than ever,” Turcotte said of the tabletop flood scenario.

The exercise, held at the American Legion Hall on Conant Street, included how to prepare for the event and once it hits, how to respond to the calls about flooded homes and businesses and, if necessary, how to evacuate people.

Roberts said the gathering was the first tabletop emergency preparedness exercise the city has held since she became police chief four years ago. She and the department have participated in two emergency preparedness events hosted by the school department: a tabletop exercise in 2017 and a functional drill in 2018.

During a tabletop exercise, she said, emergency plans are examined and roles and responsibilities are determined. Functional drill tests a part of an emergency plan. During a full-scale exercise, Roberts said, actors come in and agencies respond “like if it was a real-world incident.”

“There’s a lot of things the city needs to work on. This tabletop exercise is a start towards looking at the plan we currently have,” Roberts said. “We know it is somewhat outdated and we need to revise it.”

“Exercising this was important to help us addressing the gaps (in our plan),” Turcotte said.

Later this month, the coordination team – made up of representatives from the police and fire departments, 9-1-1 dispatch, public services, Sappi, Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency and Westbrook’s marketing and city clerk’s offices – will meet. The team will go over the notes from the tabletop exercise and work on an “after-action” report, a document that lays out what needs to be improved and what individuals, departments or groups would be responsible for making that change. The report also will include a time line for making the changes.

“My vision for the after-action plan,” Roberts said, “is to bring it before department heads, the mayor, the city administrator and the City Council to say this is what’s been recommended and have the city’s decision makers help our team determine the priorities.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Westbrook officials meet with emergency preparedness professionals in a tabletop exercise last week that looked at how prepared the city is to respond to a major flood.

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