The prolonged Con Ed outages caused a tremendous amount of suffering in Westchester for thousands of residents.
Over 9,500 Greenburgh residents were out of power after the hurricane (half the town). Many residents did not have their power restored for nearly two weeks.
I invited residents to share some suggestions that could be implemented in the future so that the nightmare we recently experienced will never happen again. I am forwarding these suggestions to the Governor, our state Legislators, the Attorney General and NYS Public Service Commission.
A citizens committee that I am forming will be holding our first meeting this Monday, November 19th at 7 PM at Greenburgh Town Hall to discuss these ideas. This meeting is open to anyone in the county.
The following are some of the many suggestions I received. Your feedback is always appreciated.
_ PAUL FEINER
Con Ed crews assigned to Greenburgh did not work 24 hours during the restoration of electricity. During the first week after the hurricane we were assigned token crews (usually two). Little was accomplished.
- Con Ed should assign crews to areas without power 24 hours a day. No down time until all power is restored. Obviously different crews during daytime and evening hours. Crews worked most nights till 8 or 9 PM. If this was a 24 hour operation power would have been restored much quicker.
- Con Ed should call in more of their retirees.
- Con Ed should provide elected officials with a daily accounting of where crews are going to be sent each day and at the end of the day the Con Ed liaisons should account for what streets had power restored. People were also unable to contact Con Ed by phone or though their automatic reporting system on line.
- Con Ed should have a plan of action in place, working with public safety and local officials on how to deal with the frail elderly and people with significant medical issues. Members of the Greenburgh Disabled Advisory Committee who are on a list of people to be contacted in the event of an emergency were never contacted.
- During the recent storm many people contacted me with major health problems. They included people who were home bound - unable to leave their homes due to serious illnesses, recent operations. I spoke with residents who had brain surgeries, and depend on oxygen to live. I am sure that the prolonged power outages contributed to additional health problems for those with major medical problems (people who refuse to leave their home during an outage). Con Ed gave no priority attention to their needs.
- All assisted living facilities, hospitals; nursing homes should be contacted in advance of storms and asked to provide those with medical needs affordable temporary places to stay while power is out. We need to come up with a process to check on those individuals with major medical issues.
- The concept of power restoration, though seemingly tedious for us of late, is not unique to the Northeast. We could benchmark other utility’s approaches for power restoration related to hurricane/other large scale outages. Certainly other utilities in hurricane prone locales like Florida, Louisiana, etc. have practices related to power restoration that could be benchmarked/leveraged.
- Suggestion from resident: Con Ed tree cutting: suggest that Con Ed cut the trees back at an angle of 20 degrees, instead of straight up, so the trees have a few years BEFORE they grow over the wires. AND, cut the trees ALL the way up, not just around the wires. Old way of tree trimming. Tree trimming needs an update.
- Bury the (local distribution) lines! We should lobby for a new federal stimulus program. This could be done gradually. From what I understand, it costs about 5 times more upfront (about $1 million/mile, compared to $200,000/mile for above-ground), but that the extra cost is mostly saved, over the lifetime of the lines, in maintenance. Additional benefit: much more beautiful (you don't see the lines!). Another benefit of pushing to do underground retrofitting is a huge shot-in-the-arm for the economy (and yes, it will take taxes/bonds to pay for it, but it is money very well spent). A suggestion: As communities do work underground (water mains) they should be able to apply for grants to gradually bury lines underground. It would probably be too expensive to do at once.
- Con Ed should post, eligible for refinement, of the order that crews will tackle addresses/neighborhoods. People were upset because there was no expectation of when the power would come to homes. Con Ed told people that 90% of their power will be restored by 11/9 but customers were frustrated because they did not know if they were part of the 90% or 10%. How does Con Ed set priorities? Is it by number of people affected or do the politicians/government weigh in. How does Con Ed decide which municipalities, etc..get attention? Why would Greenburgh be sent more or less crews than other communities on a given day? There should be an emergency plan in place so that when a disaster strikes there is protocol. Public hearings on the emergency plan should be held and it should be approved at a public meeting.
- Con Ed should warn customers when scheduled outages are happening. They had to do this a lot in order to work and gave no warning.
- Fines for prolonged outages to residents who suffered. How about a reduction in our bills based on days without power!
- Con Ed must improve communication with Verizon and other players. The town, and other players? In a crisis, should Con Ed turn away workers that are non-union? In a crisis, should Con Ed aggressively enlist retired Con Ed workers who are willing to “freelance”?
- Con Ed needs to fix their robocall system? We had people getting calls that their power had been restored when it was not, people getting calls that their power was about to be restored when it had been restored days earlier, etc. There needs to be better and more proactive communication from Con Ed to its customers that don't have power. It was frustrating to call each day and receive the same "we're working on it" answer. And the burden was on us to keep calling since they did not reach out to us at all. Con Ed should maintain an e-mail alert and phone system to let people know what they are doing. They should have quick and specific geographical information available on their website with easy navigation. They should urge customers to sign up for e-mail and/or phone alerts. Outage maps were not accurate or up to date on line.
- In addition, Con Ed should be required to provide a TBD minimum number of crews to Westchester to alleviate the problems we had the first few days when most of crews were in NYC and Westchester was predominantly ignored. There needs to be a more equitable division of the crews.
- PSC and state should review the stockpile of most frequently damaged burnt out items such as transformers. Con Ed crews advised that they had run out of some parts.
- In the meantime we should be proactive about trimming branches and removing trees that pose significant risk to pole based infrastructure.
- In addition, the PSC may want to examine when Con Ed requested mutual aid crews from other utilities and how effectively they were deployed.
- More dry ice should be distributed –centers in every town. Con Ed provided some dry ice but announced locations in the middle of each day – providing many residents who needed the ice with inadequate notice.
- Lend emergency generators with the necessary person to install it for the length of the power outage to the frail elderly
Paul J. Feiner