A New York State Senate Bipartisan Task Force has issued its first report regarding how to move forward with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. One of their recommendations concerns the response of utility companies during and after a major storm.
The task-force report comes after senators concluded their tours of hard-hit areas last week. Following the tours, the senators held roundtables to hear from a number of local stakeholders. The report contains ten preliminary recommendations, urging the state legislature take action on such issues as ensuring that first responders have the tools and training needed to properly handle future disasters; and exploring the possibility of expanding gasoline priority lists for those who provide critical services who are not first responders. Another is tasking the Legislature with ensuring that utility companies are responsive in a timely manner both during and after a storm. Chris Jensen is the program coordinator for the Rockland County Office of Fire and Emergency Services. He participated in the roundtable in Rockland County.
Orange & Rockland Utilities had about 250,000 customers without power after Sandy; Con Edison, more than one million; NYSEG, about 76,000; and Central Hudson, some 103,000. Most local officials during the Rockland roundtable expressed their dissatisfaction with their local utility companies, specifically O&R and Con Edison, regarding their lack of communication, disorganization, poor customer service, and slow response time. Alex Gromack is the supervisor of the Rockland Town of Clarkstown, and attended the Senate Task Force roundtable.
Municipal officials from the Rockland roundtable said utility companies’ mutual-aid programs need to be better coordinated. Gromack suggested that utility companies put in place mutual-aid crews ahead of a forecasted major storm rather than days after the storm. Also, says Supervisor Gromack:
Roundtable participants also stated they believe there is a need for the utility companies to upgrade their systems to allow for quicker, more efficient response to specific situations. For example, Supervisor Gromack said his town faced an issue with traffic lights being out for several days, and the town was forced to use local police and State Troopers to direct traffic until O&R could resolve the problem.
Vice President of Operations for O&R Frank Peverly, per the report, said, in response, that O&R is working on its customer service to relay information to customers as needed; providing necessary tools to workers to respond to storms; updating its management system; and modifying systems to help serve customers better. He also said O&R is working on “hardening” its system, which may include placing more power lines underground and removing more trees.
State Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, whose district includes a large part of Rockland County, is a task-force member. Overall, he says the work has just begun for recovery.