The Examiner

Latimer, Buchwald Release Storm Report Aimed at Utilities

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County Executive George Latimer and Assemblyman David Buchwald are surrounded by local and county officials Monday upon release of a report that makes a series of recommendations on how utilities can improve response to power outages following severe storms.

County officials released an extensive report Monday that includes several recommendations on how to improve preparation and storm response by the utilities that struggled to restore power following back-to-back nor’easters in March.

In response to the deficient Con Edison and New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) reactions that left thousands of residents without power for days,

the 49-page report crafted by County Executive George Latimer and Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains) includes input from mayors, town supervisors, county, state and federal officials on ways to improve response.

Officials suggested the Public Service Commission (PSC), Con Edison and NYSEG perform an analysis of their ability to forecast the severity of future storms and their process of preparation. They also recommended that representatives of both utilities participate in pre-storm conference calls with officials from multiple levels of government.

Both entities are being advised to strengthen their municipal liaison program, rigorously evaluate the functioning and reliance of mutual aid and devise a more effective approach for providing government officials and customers with accurate restoration times, mutual aid and emergency information.

Latimer stressed that both entities should revisit the practice of using robocalls to inform customers of the status of their power. He said robocalls during the March storms were almost always inaccurate.

“They were general in nature, they did not accurately reflect what was happening on the ground,” Latimer said. “We understand there is technology where you can mass communicate, but it may in fact be that mass communication is disinformation if it’s not accurate information.”

Buchwald said the assessment will form the building block to enhance the partnership between utilities, elected officials and customers. He added that the repeated extended power outages are unacceptable and that residents are severely dissatisfied with the utilities’ performance.

“We need for our economy and our health and safety a sense that everything possible will be done to restore power as quickly as it can happen after these storms,” Buchwald said. “Fundamentally, that’s not what we saw in March, it’s not what we saw after Superstorm Sandy, but it’s also not what we saw last week and we are really committed to doing everything in our power collectively to make sure we don’t see those sorts of things happen again.”

Buchwald said a questionnaire was provided to government officials throughout Westchester last month regarding storm response issues in their communities and ideas for improvements. The survey addressed a range of topics, including preparation, communication, mutual aid, preventive maintenance, coordination, dry ice and water distribution, infrastructure and operations.

A 12-member executive committee of elected officials called United Westchester was then created to coordinate efforts, Buchwald said.

“We need to see change. We need to see something significant happen that’s different and going backwards is a function of understanding what happened and why and then see action taken to change this,” Latimer said. “We know that Mother Nature will act without giving us significant advance notice, but we cannot expect that we will continue to have an inadequate response to Mother Nature when she does what she does.”

Following the storms, Latimer called for Con Edison and NYSEG to clean house of its senior management. Now Latimer and Buchwald are hoping that despite the significant management failures, both entities will be receptive to the county’s analysis and make improvements.

However, Buchwald noted if the county’s recommendations aren’t adopted voluntarily by both entities, they will call on the PSC to implement them or elected officials will work to enact them into law.

“I think that Con Ed and NYSEG, if they’re smart, will view this as constructive feedback they can build upon,” Buchwald said. “Whatever system is set up we need to get to a better place.”

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