Committee begins planning Trumbull’s long-term recovery after coronavirus

TRUMBULL — Trumbull’s Long Term Disater Recovery Committee, which met just once since its formation in 2019, has begun making preparations for life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee formed after a community response drill which also involved an illness outbreak — anthrax, according to Chairman Rina Bakalar.

“Historically, long term recovery was the responsibility of the economic development director, with some help from the finance director,” said Bakalar, the town’s economic development director. “The idea was that someone would need to work with the business community after the emergency was over.”

But in June of last year, Trumbull conducted an emergency response drill simulating an outbreak of anthrax. In the drill’s aftermath, it became clear that a 1.5-person recovery team would be overwhelmed by the task.

“One of the recommendations to come out of it was that we really needed a cross-departmental team with the economic development director and others, depending on the nature of the situation,” Bakalar said. “This group would start meeting while the situation was still in effect and be prepared to work over time for the town’s recovery.”

The committee met exactly one time last year, an introductory meeting where the members discussed the potential emergencies that could confront the town, said First Selectman Vicki Tesoro.

“We knew it would be good to plan ahead for anything, because you just never know,” Tesoro said.

“Now that we know what we’re facing, the committee met last week to start to ramp up,” she said.

What became clear immediately, Tesoro said, is that returning to normal isn’t like flipping a light switch.

“It’s going to be a very long time for some things to come back,” she said. “The impact is huge. People have lost their jobs, businesses have furloughed workers. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘OK, we’re opening tomorrow.’ They need workers, they need products.”

So the committee’s first response was to simply get businesses to the point where they had the resources to reopen, Bakalar said.

Committee member Marshall Marcus, who serves on the town’s Economic Development Commission, said members have been studying up on state and federal programs that could be helpful to businesses but that a small business owner might need help securing.

“Some of these programs require that the initial application be made through your bank,” he said. “But some banks are closed, some banks have closed branches and others are drive-through only, so that doesn’t help you.”

Some businesses might find that the branch they use closed, but larger, regional offices are open, Marcus said.

“But how much help is that when the people who know your business are furloughed, and all your records are locked in a file in a closed branch?” he said.

In addition to the financial aid, the community will likely require psychological help, Tesoro said. For that reason, the town’s social services staff also has been working with the recovery committee. School officials are contributing their expertise on the impact that children could experience, and representatives from the town’s nursing homes are participating too, she said.

“It’s going to be an adjustment, and people may have a different comfort zone,” she said.

For example, how long will it be before people want to take the subway to work, take a plane to a vacation spot, or crowd onto a dance floor at a family wedding?

“When we formed this committee, we were thinking of things like the (September 2018) flooding in Trumbull Center, where the businesses there need help, but the rest of the town, or the state is still functioning,” Tesoro said. “But here we have the world economy shut down for months.”

The bottom line, Bakalar said, is that the committee is in it for the long haul, and will be assisting the community until things return to normal — whatever normal is, she said.

“We’re already active, and we’ll continue to use our committee as long as businesses and individuals need help,” she said.