Greenwich Emergency Preparedness Critical


As mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice continue across the country, so, too, does the COVID-19 pandemic. Add in Hurricane Season, which officially started on June 1 and runs through November 30, and there’s a perfect storm of events that could cause challenges for many cities and towns.

But the Town of Greenwich is well-prepared and equipped to handle anything that may come its way.

In Greenwich, there have been several small peaceful protests and rallies in recent weeks. Lt. John Slusarz of the Greenwich Police Department said communication has been key in keeping officers and protest organizers safe.

“Our basic game plan is to allow people their voice. Most people contact us ahead of time and say, ‘My group is coming to the police station on Saturday at midnight to protest something.’ We’ll talk about what the needs are for that particular group. If it’s at night, they’ll need lighting. Are they going to walk from one place to another? These are the issues we need to address to keep you safe and to make sure that everybody is orderly,” Slusarz said, adding that the GPD routinely looks at how other departments are handling both good and bad situations so they can be prepared.

“Our mandate is to let the people have their event and speak what’s on their minds, and we do our best to keep it from becoming a riot.”

All officers are trained in crowd and riot control, Slusarz said.

“We’re trained and we’re equipped, and we can handle that. Fortunately, people that are coming here recognize that the Greenwich Police Department isn’t the enemy. We’ve been pretty straightforward and open about our record and how we conduct business,” Slusarz said.

The town’s Emergency Management Department plays a secondary role to the GPD during protests, said department director, Dan Warzoha.

“[Protests] are clearly in their venue, and we’ve had some small protests in town. The police chief [James Heavey] and I have been in direct contact with each event. They’re trained to do that, that’s their schtick, and my job is to provide logistical support. If the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was needed for an event, we’d set that up, and provide any situational awareness that’s needed,” Warzoha said, adding that the town would be in touch with state officials.

The Emergency Management Department’s primary role is to coordinate the emergency response plans among the town’s first responders and other organizations, like the Red Cross and Greenwich Hospital. Those outlets play key roles in responding to incidents of mass casualty, bioterrorism, or disaster, stemming from events like storms.

Hurricane Season officially began on June 1, and will run through Nov. 30, and according to Zach Krauss of SWCTweather.com, we’re already off to an active start.

“The 2020 hurricane season has already started by breaking the record of the most named storms (3) by June 15, and this is a premonition of the season to come. Most signs lean towards an active hurricane season,” Krauss said, noting above average sea surface temperatures, with no El Nino conditions expected, weak tropical Atlantic trade winds, and a strong West African monsoon.

“That being said, I do not think there are any indicators of an above normal chance of one of these storms making it up to Connecticut. However, with such an active season, our sample size of storms increases and thus our chance of seeing one up here increases.”

Warzoha said that beginning in late February, he was warned about an active storm season, and it’s something he is continually monitoring.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warzoha said the town has had to prepare how to implement a storm response in this new world, specifically how it relates to shelter facilities. Greenwich has a flowing plan for town officials, first responders, and residents leading up to, during, and after a storm.

“We’re really concerned about the challenges that if we had to shelter, given the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you shelter and social distance?” Warzoha said. “Not only as a town, but as one of the 14 towns in Southwest Connecticut in what’s known as Region 1, we’ve been working on this aggressively, as well as the State Office of Emergency Management. Nobody’s sitting back on their laurels saying, ‘Oh, we had a pandemic, we’re not going to get hit with a storm.’ That’s not wise thinking.”

Warzoha added that the town needs to think about how to juggle recovery from the pandemic, a possible second surge of the coronavirus, the regular flu season, and a possible bad storm season.

“You can have it all kind of come on top of you in one shot, so you have to be prepared,” he said.

The planning and monitoring process is ongoing.

“The town has the facilities and the resources as far as personnel and experience to tackle these kinds of events. We’re going to do that,” he said. “We’ve got more than enough storm experience, and we’ve got to be able to modify that experience into some sheltering challenges. We’ve already met with the Red Cross in regards to that, and we’re going to keep meeting with them as to how we staff and manage our sheltering set ups in a pandemic environment.”

Residents are encouraged to check out the “Ready Guide” on the town website, under Emergency Preparedness. The guide outlines almost any weather, natural disaster or terrorist-related situation, with useful tips, checklists, guidelines for household emergency plans and important phone numbers and contact information. On the website, there is also the full flowing plan the town follows during hurricanes and nor’easters.