Outages Lead To Outrage

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New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Patrick Murphy took part in a press conference to discuss hurricane preparedness. Behind him are Senator John Brooks and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. The state has spent $9 billion on Long Island for storm resiliency. (Red Cross on Long Island Photo)

Who can forget Sandy?

Though the moniker “Superstorm” was not official, its effects were outsized.
For the record, the National Hurricane Center dubbed it “Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy.”
Sandy exposed how unprepared residents and governments in our region were for a weather event of that intensity and magnitude. Apparently, the lessons of Sandy were not totally taken to heart.

The swift passage of Tropical Storm Isaias on Aug. 4 caused the most damage and power outages since that 2012 storm. Long Island was the most affected area in the northeast, thanks to wind gusts that topped hurricane speeds.

PSEG-Long Island was subject to widespread criticism after it left some of its customers without power for more than 10 days. Worse, its touted communications upgrade failed, with customers unable to contact the company.

In a letter, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin pointed out that “In fact, more than long restoration times and inaccurate estimated times of restoration, Long Island customers were most angered by their inability to contact the company in any way during the storm to report that power was out. This, despite repeated emails and text messages from PSEG, in advance of the storm, assuring customers of the company’s preparedness to deal with upcoming weather and reminding them that they could report outages by calling a particular telephone number, sending a text message to the company, making a report through the PSEG app or the company website.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state’s Department of Public Service to investigate the performance of numerous utilities during the storm.

“We know that severe weather is our new reality and the reckless disregard by utility companies to adequately plan for tropical storm Isaias left tens of thousands of customers in the dark, literally and figuratively. Their performance was unacceptable,” Cuomo said in a statement.

PSEG-LI reported that 420,000 customers were without power at peak outage. As of 10 p.m. on Aug. 12, the utility claimed that virtually all power had been restored.
The morning after the storm, the Long Island Senate Majority delegation stood in front of PSEG’s Long Island office in Melville to call for an investigation by New York State Attorney General Letitia James into the utility company’s handling of the storm.

“Constituents have been contacting my office to let me know that they have been unable to get through to PSEG to report downed power lines, outages and fallen trees. This complete failure of PSEG-LI’s communication systems, especially amid a pandemic, is unacceptable,” Senator Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) said.

The senators also asked that Verizon Wireless and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), PSEG_LI’s oversight agency, be investigated.

Also on Aug. 5, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sent the PSEG-LI leadership a message stating that she was “deeply concerned by PSEG Long Island’s widespread communications failures during and in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias. By all accounts, these failures extend to every portion of Nassau County, leaving many ratepayers in the dark, struggling to find answers.”

She went on to “call upon the leadership team of PSEG to announce plans for a post recovery review of communications protocols and devise backup plans. A repeat of the same mistakes is simply unacceptable. These problems should have been corrected after Superstorm Sandy, not faced again with Isaias.”

Curran also wants the utility to compensate customers who suffered economic losses thanks to the storm.

Hurricane Season

At the dawn of the hurricane season, the Long Island chapter of the Red Cross held a press conference at its Mineola headquarters to bring together stakeholders to discuss the hurricane season, and how the ongoing pandemic will affect preparations.

“Disasters won’t stop, even during a pandemic,” Neela Lockel, CEO of the chapter, said. “Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and early reports predict an above average season with three to six storms reaching major hurricane strength. But because of COVID-19, getting prepared will look a little different than in other years. We are urging residents to adjust their preparedness planning to the new health threats brought on by the pandemic. Make time to build an emergency kit in the event that you have to evacuate or shelter in place.”

County Executive Curran praised the county’s Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Steve Morelli and his team, and observed, “I feel that we have learned so much from Superstorm Sandy at the county level in terms of our response.”

National Grid Director of Emergency Planning Joe Gilliard and PSEG Long Island Emergency Preparedness Manager Larry Torres also spoke, affirming that the utilities had likewise learned from Sandy. In addition, both hailed the response to the pandemic and how service had been uninterrupted despite the challenges.

“Our employees have been working nonstop over the past six years to increase the resiliency of the electric system,” Torres said. “Since 2014, they have improved the reliability on approximately 99 percent of circuits identified for improvements, from the Rockaways to Shelter Island. That means we installed stronger poles, stronger wire and stronger hardware, all in an effort to remediate any storm impact.”

Further, thousands of tree limbs with potential to down electric lines have been removed.
Visit www.redcross.org for information on volunteering and preparing an emergency plan and supply kit.

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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