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Housatonic Officials: CL&P Storm Response Still Lacking

Housatonic Valley elected officials offer five suggestions to improve storm response in wake of Storm Sandy.

 

Dear Chairman [Arthur] House:

I am writing to you as Chairman of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials [HVCEO], the state designated regional planning council for the Greater Danbury Area. As you know our residents and businesses were severely impacted by recent Storm Sandy.   

As local leaders we were active during the last year in articulating CL&P response concerns to PURA regarding Storms Irene and Alfred. Regrettably, while we saw some improvement in the CL&P response between 2011 and 2012 events, that utility was still under prepared. 

Please accept as constructive criticism relevant to the above cited dockets [12-09-13: Best Utility Practices and 12-11-07: CL&P Performance] our request that PURA take action to remedy remaining public safety problems. To assist we offer the following comments: 

1. PRE-POSITION CREWS:

Municipal chief executives were assured in an email from CL&P and on the Governor’s statewide conference call just before Storm Sandy that sufficient utility crews were on standby and pre-positioned in state prior to the storm. Expectations were dashed when previously announced numbers of crews were revised downward by almost 75 percent. After Storm Sandy had passed, it took almost one week to get to the out of state crew levels that were promised prior to the storm.

Please direct CL&P to use sufficient resources to pre-position crews. Make this a requirement of their franchise. 

Order that the necessary expenses be incurred to reserve out of state response resources in advance of predicted storm events and require that they be on hand, in state, prior to the storm. 

2. DELAY IN USE OF OUT OF STATE CREWS:

Just as in 2011 there was an inability of out of state crews to begin working quickly. We ask that you require improvement to the management of out of state crews arriving in Connecticut.

We understand that for safety reasons the majority of the on site restoration activity cannot begin until after sunrise but crew orientation should start pre dawn, rather than waiting until sunrise, saving valuable time. Thousands of daylight crew hours were lost due to the training taken place after daylight had already broken.

3. MUNICIPAL LIAISONS:

We much appreciate that there is on-going coordination and training throughout the year between municipal staff and a CL&P appointed liaison. 

We wish to report that in one of our towns CL&P reassigned their liaison just as Storm Sandy hit. CL&P substituted a staff person unfamiliar with the town’s response resources. That change proved to be detrimental to effective coordination thereafter. 

In some cases internal CL&P communication with its liaisons was deficient. This included laptop and other communication equipment failures. 

Some towns noted delays whereby the CL&P liaison contacted local work area centers for information about nearby crew activity while other liaisons had more direct control and actually assigned work to crews. Overall we advise further decentralization of authority to CL&P liaisons assigned to municipalities, thus allowing for more effective management in the field. 

To also cite positive experiences, the embedding of CL&P crews prior to the storm with municipal public works crews has been effective.

4. CALL CENTER PERFORMANCE:

We received many reports of CL&P call centers disseminating inaccurate information. Typical was the experience of the Newtown First Selectman [Pat Llodra]:

"Many Newtown residents calling in were given specific yet inaccurate estimates of restoration schedules. Some residents continued to be told they were energized when that was not true; call centers continually mixed up Newington and Newtown, and on and on."

As a related critical call center problem, some residents who contacted CL&P as to the status of restoration times, were redirected to town halls for answers. 

As elected leaders, we expect to be fully engaged in communications during a crisis event with our residents, but CL&P should train its staff to respond to all requests for information. That is the role of the power company, not the municipality. 

Town officials do have an initial role in setting priorities for restoration of essential emergency and institutional facilities, and that coordination worked very well. 

Yet after that early phase, the public was still led to believe that the mayor or first selectman had authority for setting remaining priorities for restoration neighborhood by neighborhood. It should be clarified to CL&P call center staff that such is not the case.

5. CREW TRAINING MODEL:

In pursuit of best practice models, we note with great interest that crews from Western Massachusetts Electric were able to restore power quickly upon arrival in our towns. 

This is partly because they were cross trained, both cutting of fallen trees and power line restoration skills all in the same crew. Two different types of staff did not need to wait for each other. Please consider this as a model for CL&P. 

Looking ahead, it would be prudent to create a joint state/utility task force for the purpose of conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis and long term plan for utility infrastructure hardening. The emphasis should be upon relocation of vital components underground as well as aggressive vegetation management.

In closing we recognize that it is impossible to be fully prepared for a major natural disaster. This is especially true with a storm of the magnitude of Sandy, a weather system with a diameter of 1,000 miles, causing significant loss of life and property across the entire Eastern Seaboard and requiring a national scale deployment of resources in response.

Yet the suggestions above are not that difficult to implement and are needed for CL&P to further improve its response. Please give them your full consideration.

Sincerely yours,

HARD COPY SIGNED BY

John Hodge, HVCEO Chairman and First Selectman of New Fairfield

Additional signatories:

Bethel First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker
Bridgewater Selectman Curtis Read
Brookfield First Selectman William Davidson
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton
New Milford Mayor Patricia Murphy
Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra
Redding First Selectman Natalie Ketcham
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudolph Marconi
Sherman First Selectman Clay Cope

Penny Kessler December 12, 2012 at 12:13 AM
This is a comprehensive letter. I would have added a bullet re CL&P customer communications, urging CL&P officials to maintain a constant stream of updates via Facebook, Twitter, email, phone calls, etc.

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