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Legislature to Try Social Media as Part of Irene Hearings

The General Assembly wants to assess the state's readiness for the storm and will utilize Twitter and Facebook as part of the proceedings for the first time.

The General Assembly will hold a series of informational hearings starting next week to examine the response by utility, cable and telecommunications companies to Tropical Storm Irene. But the hearings will have a twist.

For the first time, according to Senate Democrats Communications Director Derek Slap, the General Assembly will employ social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, to solicit constituent feedback and incorporate that feedback into the proceedings.

"This is the first time we've used social media in conjunction with part of the public hearing process," Slap said. "We understand that the legislative hearings are sometimes not very convenient for people. Many people have already been greatly inconvenienced by the tropical storm. So we wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to participate."

Slap said social media will also allow for interactivity, with constituents able to offer and get answers to their questions in real time. Those questions and concerns can and will then be brought directly to the legislators, Slap said.

The hearings before the legislature’s Energy & Technology, Public Safety, Labor and Public Employees, and Planning & Development committees will convene on Sept. 19 and 26. The committees will hear from representatives of utility companies, workers, communications firms and municipalities, as well as from members of the general public.

On Sept. 19,  representatives of CL&P, United Illuminating and and municipal utilities will testify in a hearing that will start at 9:30 a.m., followed by municipal representatives and officials from telephone, cable and wireless utility companies. The hearing will conclude at 4:30 p.m.

On Sept. 26, members of the public will have the opportunity to appear before the committees beginning at 9 a.m., followed by union representatives and the electric utility companies. The public will have an additional chance for comment before the hearing closes in early afternoon.

"There's hardly a person or business across the state that didn't feel the impact of Irene," said House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden. "We need to understand what worked and what didn't in terms of how we prepared and how we responded. I expect these hearings will be productive and forward looking and will serve us well for the next, inevitable punch from Mother Nature."

"Hurricane Irene put Connecticut to the test," added Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr., D-Brooklyn. "Now it's time to evaluate our readiness and response. The informational hearings will help us get the answers that families expect and deserve. I'm also pleased that there will be time reserved for members of the public to share their experiences.

For those who can’t attend the hearings Senate and House Democrats have set up Facebook andTwitter accounts to accept public comments and suggestions about experiences with the storm and the state's readiness for and response to it.

"We have a responsibility to better understand what went right and what went wrong after Irene and why,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who also chairs the Energy & Technology Committee. “We must examine what needs to be done to be better prepared for future events that undoubtedly will happen."

"People who had to wait for a week or more need some satisfaction in knowing why it took so long for their power to be restored. The delay went far beyond mere inconvenience; many people need electricity to pump well water to their homes and for other health requirements," said Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chair of the Energy & Technology Committee.

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