State: LIPA Storm Communication Leaves Room for Improvement

A report issued Thursday by the State Department of Public Service said LIPA did not provide timely and accurate information to its customers during Tropical Storm Irene.

A 109-page report released Thursday by the State Department of Public Service stated that while power to over a half million customers was restored in roughly a week's time, Long Island Power Authority's communication with the public left much to be desired during Tropical Storm Irene last summer.

"Of the recommendations in the report, the most significant relate to LIPA’s communication with customers and public officials," the report states. "Some customers and public officials experienced difficulties in their efforts to reach LIPA by telephone during the storm and the restoration effort.

"In addition, the content of LIPA’s messages to customers did not provide timely and accurate estimated restoration times (ETRs) ... Customers were not able to make adjustments to their day-to-day living requirements without electricity, nor did they have knowledge of when things would return to normal."

Click here for a recap of Hurrican Irene coverage across Smithtown.

To blame for the lag time in communicating, the report states, was an outdated outage management system the utility had been encouraged to replace in 2006, though never did. Following Irene, LIPA said deployment of a new system was underway.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for reviews of the storm-restoration practices of all statewide utilities last fall in the aftermath of Irene, though LIPA - not overseen by the state's Public Service Commission - was the only utility to receive its own report. Irene knocked out power to 523,000 LIPA customers, leaving some without power for over a week as 3,500 contractors were called in from beyond Long Island to help turn the power back on.

The utility issued a 103-page report of its own last November to the Public Service Department, admitting its own shortcomings in communicating outage information to customers. At that point, it said a new outage management system was already in the works. According to Cuomo's office, the new OMS was in 

"Efforts fell short in providing the desired restoration information in terms of frequency of updates on progress and projections, visibility to where repair crews were working and customer/area specific outage restoration information," states the LIPA report.

"Efforts to improve the ability to provide such information during major storms are underway and involve short term systems enhancements, as well as the deployment of a new outage management system (OMS) that is targeted for implementation next year."

Thursday's DPS report offered 51 specific recommendations, and 10 overall recommendations, for LIPA to make to improve its overall emergency planning process. Other overall recommendations included modifying LIPAs tree-trimming policy and improving field operations.


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