Forty days after Tropical Storm Irene knocked out power to more than half a million homes and business’ in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Long Island Power Authority officials were called upon to address its response to the storm at Suffolk County’s public safety committee meeting Thursday.
LIPA’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey used his opening statement to clarify the utilities policy when it comes critical care patients; it’s handling of restoration efforts and post-storm review process.
“We of course want to do each and every storm better than we did the last storm,” Hervey said.
LIPA took a lengthy and high-profile tongue lashing from ratepayers and local officials who demanded better communication from the utility that powers 1.1 million customers in both counties. Adding to that this week were Suffolk lawmakers, who questioned why critical care patients weren’t a priority during restoration.
LIPA has a list of 5,000 critical care patients who Hervey said received personal phone calls before the storm, and at least once when power was out. Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said a neighbor who lives on a ventilator went without power for seven days, and didn’t have a generator to use while he waited for crews to turn the electricity back on.
But critical care patients aren’t guaranteed immediate restoration, Hervey said, adding there is a “misunderstanding” around the critical care program. It’s meant to make it easier for LIPA to reach out to those on the list, not to make them a priority, he said.
“There is a perception that critical care means first to be restored,” he said. ”And I can tell you, on a sunny day like today that the dispatcher has a choice between a critical care customer and an outage that doesn’t involve a critical care customer, that they will in fact give priority to that critical care customer.”
“But in these large-scale events, the critical care customer,” Hervey continued, “our duty to them and our commitment to them is to reach out to them and give them information regarding the restoration.”
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) suggested LIPA and municipalities create a “common portal” where critical care patients will be placed on one list.
In an effort to increase public awareness, LIPA participated in a public outreach program to educate ratepayers about the list, Hervey said.
“Our task is to be more communicative toward the critical care customer,” he said, “to let them know the expectations that they should have of us.”
Last month, LIPA estimated that the cost of restoring power to thousands of residents is about $176 million. The majority of the bill is eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement, leaving about $40 million on ratepayer’s tab.
Hervey also reiterated LIPA will continue to review restoration and communication efforts after thousands were left in the dark and had to rely on candles and flashlights to light their homes during the outage.
He also said a new municipal phone number will be available to local officials because the line was flooded during the storm after the number made it out to the public. Hervey added that LIPA is upgrading computer technology, and said a new outage system is expected to hit the utility’s website in 2013. He said he’s trying to accelerate the process.