Westchester County Executive George Latimer was the latest elected official to come down on utility and telecom companies for their poor response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
Latimer spoke this week during a joint Senate and Assembly public hearing on the power and communication failures caused by the winds and rain Isaias brought as it ripped through the East Coast.
Latimer made note that the region is still dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, and the outages came in the midst of a heatwave that saw temperatures approach 100 degrees.
“(This is) outrageous in any time, but today, in an age of working from home, distance learning and an ever-increasing reliance on having adequate power – not to mention the scorching temperatures – thousands of Westchester residents were left, and still are left, in the dark or without telecommunications for over a week at the hands of Con Edison, NYSEG, Altice and Verizon,” he said.
Citing the hundreds of thousands of customers who were without power or telecommunications services for as many as eight days, Latimer called for swift changes to be made.
“Customers were consistently fed incorrect or outdated information,” he said. “In some cases, customers resorted to putting signs up in front of their homes to ensure that crews that may be passing by after three or four days were aware that their home was still without power.
“Customers felt the need to resort to that when they either received a knock on the door from the company earlier asking if they had power or received a text that their service was restored – while they were sitting in a dark home,” he added.
Latimer said that the utility companies need to beef up their emergency staff to ensure that there are enough people in the area to sufficiently make repairs after a storm strikes.
“What has become abundantly clear to me is that the single biggest reason why it takes so long for power to be restored is lack of personnel,” Latimer added. “The utilities do not have sufficient, permanent and available workforce to put enough ‘boots on the ground’ in the first 48 hours after a weather incident.”
He also called on utility companies to bring in mutual aid crews before a storm, not after its already caused wreckage that needs to be repaired.
“Oftentimes, after a major storm, these ‘cut and clear crews’ are brought in from all around the country as a call for ‘mutual aid,’ Latimer said. “The problem here is that those crews aren’t called upon until after the storm has already swept through.
“I ask, how is that possible? This storm was heavily reported in news reports. So much so that many utility companies sent out communications to their customers about the impending severe weather.”
Latimer ended his statement by proposing the creation of a “utility reserve corps,” which would include retired workers and others who could chip in in the event of a major storm.
The reserve corps would receive an annual stipend and receive annual updated training annually.
“This ‘reserve corps’ will be called upon to provide immediate emergency deployment much the same way the National Guard or Army Reserve works,” Latimer explained. “There are a thousand details to work out - compensation, union status, circumstances that trigger the ‘call up,’ financing the corps - but the current system does not allow utilities to staff up year-round the person-power they need for the yearly incidents that may occur, and mutual aid from distant states doesn’t fill the response gap created by a significant storm.”
Latimer concluded by saying “I plead that we find real solutions for the real people we represent who time and time again suffer from the poor job performance from utility companies that have a monopoly on their business. It is not right and we must not let it stand.”
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