CL&P storm response: Ketcham testifies about best practices

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham is once again offering testimony to the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority regarding Connecticut Light & Power Co. and its storm response.

This time, Ms. Ketcham is responding to PURA’s investigation of, among other things, the public utility companies’ emergency management best practices.

Ms. Ketcham focused her written testimony on the best practices of Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (WMECo), which is part of the Northeast Utilities system (CL&P is in this system). She related that when the Oct. 29 Superstorm Sandy whipped through town, tree damage was extensive and power restoration by CL&P “was tortuously slow.”

Ninety-eight percent of the town was without power, and by Nov. 5, power outage was still approximately 20%, she wrote. At this point, CL&P replaced the crews in town with crews from Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

“That is when we started to see real progress in power restoration, and within 24 hours we were down to single outages,” Ms. Ketcham reported.

She attributed the performance by the Massachusetts company as due, in part, “to two different ways of handling an outage, which can be used as a model for CL&P.” She pointed to this power company’s cross-training of crews and its decentralized operations plan.

A common frustration in the outages following last year’s Tropical Storm Irene and Alfred, the October nor’easter, was the lack of coordination in the assignment of line and tree crews, Ms. Ketcham said. She elaborated that “typically,” line crews were dispatched when trees crews were needed first to clear downed trees and roads blocked by debris and wires.

WMECo solved this problem by cross-training its employees to be certified in both line and tree work, she said, so they are prepared to go to work immediately when arriving on scene.

“It should be emulated by CL&P, which would vastly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their existing crew strength,” she wrote.

WMECo has a decentralized command and control operations plan similar to that used by emergency services, Ms. Ketcham said. A senior management employee was assigned to oversee multiple towns, and individual towns each had an operations supervisor who had the authority and autonomy to control the crews assigned within the town, she said.

“This control of the situation contrasts sharply with CL&P’s insistence on running the operation from Local Area Work Centers out of town, which in our experience leads to confusion, misinformation, duplication, inefficiency, and waste of very valuable time,” Ms. Ketcham said.

She called PURA’s investigation into best practices a “very wise approach to our state’s keen overriding interest in better emergency response from our own public utilities. If other states have a model that works better, why not emulate it?” she asked.

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