Six months after Tropical Storm Irene knocked out power for as long as a week for many Glen Cove residents, the Long Island Power Authority says it is in better shape to handle a storm of that magnitude and is prepared to work more closely with Glen Cove’s Department of Public Works in that event.
“We certainly heard what our customers and our elected officials had to say,” said Mark Gross, director of communications for LIPA. “We live in a real-time world, and our customers expect real-time responses.”
Company representatives attended three town hall meetings where residents spoke in the wake of the storm, and held meetings with mayors and other local officials. The company also faced the music at a state senate hearing in September.
One of the chief problems owing to the extent of the outages was LIPA’s 25-year-old system by which outage locations were identified and responded to, according to Nick Lizanich, vice president of transmission and distribution operations.
“It ran fine for years, but it had a lot of limitations,” said Lizanich. “It ran fine for 10,000 through 25,000 customers out of power – not for 500,000.”
He said the company has been working on putting a new outage management system in place for two years, and that it should be set by the start of summer.
Lizanich said the new system’s technology will be capable of quickly pinpointing outage locations by automatically analyzing customer calls. This is a “huge enhancement” over the task being performed manually, as it is done now, he said.
Another step being taken is the use of social media to better prepare residents and get information out as a storm approaches.
In addition, Lizanich described a more formalized process by which mayors and local officials will be able to participate in periodic phone calls to get updates. LIPA will be proactive about this, he said, and won’t rely on the county's office of emergency management as an intermediary, as has been the case until now. Four new management positions have been created within the company, he said.
All this will allow key local officials to be connected quickly and directly – something that was impeded during Irene due to the leak of a private number provided for use by select officials only.
“We couldn’t manage thousands of calls on that direct hotline,” Lizanich said. He mentioned that the company hadn’t anticipated Verizon experiencing problems which prevented large numbers of customers from being able to call in.
He also discussed the reality of balancing a large-scale preparation effort against increasing the cost to customers, saying Hurricane Earl was prepared for at an expense and it never hit.