Westchester County Officials Release Recommendations for Utilities’ Storm Response

One of the many streets throughout Westchester that were remained closed after Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the area over the summer.

A group of Westchester officials released a report Monday containing recommendations to address the failures of utilities and telecommunications companies after last August’s tropical storm that left large swaths of the county without power and internet for days.

The Storm Response Report containing 42 recommendations from United Westchester, which was formed in the wake of the back-to-back March 2018 winter storms, outlines infrastructure and communications improvements for the providers to consider that is designed to speed restoration of service and provide the public and officials with more accurate information.

There was deep frustration expressed many residents and local officials and once again calls for change when tens of thousands of customers throughout Westchester lost power, internet or phone service for days when Tropical Storm Isaias battered the area on Aug. 4.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), co-chair of United Westchester, said the pandemic and sharply greater dependence on electricity and telecommunications service makes the companies’ response to severe weather and outages more critical than ever.

“In identifying problems that need to be addressed, it is our hope that solutions will be developed whether by these companies, or if not, by government intervention,” Paulin said.

Among the key recommendations proposed for Con Edison and NYSEG, the two utilities that provide Westchester with electricity, are the use of Smart Meters to track customers who are without power; compiling a list of residents who have critical medical needs; providing an updated map of  Con Edison’s grid to each municipality; submission of a storm hardening and resiliency plan; creation of a utility reserve corps that will have extra line workers in place when there is a forecast for a severe storm; and a more effective dry ice distribution plan.

Con Edison brings electricity to 80 to 90 percent of Westchester residents while NYSEG’s serves several communities in the northeast section of the county.

One of the many roads throughout northern Westchester that was closed following Tropical Storm Isaias.

For telecommunications outfits Altice and Verizon, United Westchester urged for improved coordination with Con Edison and NYSEG during restoration efforts; providing customers credits when they lose telecommunications service; and providing local governments with operational contacts.

Altice was also urged to upgrade its infrastructure and powering network nodes.

During a live-streamed United Westchester presentation Monday morning led by County Executive George Latimer, there was also focus on the firms evaluating the accuracy and effectiveness of their weather forecasting services to make sure they have the most reliable sources.

Former assemblyman David Buchwald, whose idea was to create United Westchester in 2018, said as severe weather approaches the area, information must be shared with local and county leaders.

“We believe that a lot more attention needs to be paid to these forecasts and recognize their limitations,” Buchwald said.

Officials noted that while the performance of Con Edison, Verizon and Altice was substandard following last summer’s tropical storm, particularly after the group’s 2018 recommendations were largely ignored, there were improvements in NYSEG’s response.

“Utility companies, if they take it seriously, something good will happen,” said Pound Ridge Supervisor Kevin Hansan.

Ivy Pool, supervisor in the Town of New Castle, which has been among the hardest hit communities in the county when storms have hit, appealed to Con Edison to partner with the local municipalities, particularly to identify those residents who have critical medical needs where a loss of power could be dangerous.

“Local governments stand ready to work with you, Con Edison, to update and maintain your critical customer list,” Pool said.

Paulin also said she wants to hear from the utilities why repairs and restoration take longer in Westchester than in other areas of the state.