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Westchester Electeds Issue Report And Recommendations On Storm Response

United Westchester press briefing January 4, 2021
Courtesy of the Office of Westchester County Executive George Latimer/United Westchester
United Westchester press briefing January 4, 2021

After Tropical Storm Isaias in early August left portions of the Hudson Valley without power for days, a group out of Westchester County has issued dozens of recommendations in a report released Monday. They want utility and telecommunications companies to improve storm response.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, and United Westchester released a Storm Response Report with analyses and recommendations to address what they say are the failures of the electric utility companies (Con Edison and NYSEG), and telecommunications companies (Altice and Verizon) that serve Westchester. Paulin leads United Westchester — a group of local, county and state officials that issued 42 recommendations in the 96-page report. United Westchester formed seven subcommittees to look at the various aspects of storm response.

“We really need to step back and evaluate together with telecommunication companies, with our electric utilities, why is Westchester, why, or why does it take so long here. It’s uncommon,” Paulin says. “And the rest of the state just doesn’t see those prolonged outages.”

Town of New Castle Supervisor Ivy Pool is United Westchester Con Edison Subcommittee Co-Chair and highlighted two recommendations for Con Ed.

“Con Edison must provide more accurate and timely information to local governments and to consider implementing a municipal portal for damage assessment and two-way communication as well as improvements to the municipal liaison program and its intergovernmental conference calls,” Pool says. “Second, Con Edison should review and improve monitoring and maintenance of service for individuals on life support or otherwise dependent upon electricity to meet their critical medical needs.”

Jaine Elkind Eney also co-chairs the Con Edison Subcommittee, and is Mamaroneck deputy supervisor.

“Con Ed must provide accurate information when communicating via text, website or phone communication to customers regarding status, response and restoration of services,” says Elkind Eney. “Electrical utility companies should acquire and distribute sufficient dry ice to meet demand.”

United Westchester, the brainchild of former Assemblyman David Buchwald, formed in the aftermath of two 2018 storms — Riley and Quinn. Buchwald co-chairs the subcommittee on weather forecasting.

“All of the responses of utility companies, in part, rest upon having accurate weather forecasts,” says Buchwald.

One of his subcommittee’s recommendations is for the PSC to audit forecasting systems used by utilities. Buchwald talks about a recommendation for utility companies:

“One of them is to analyze the forecasting data they have to determine its accuracy, compare it to the gold standard, which, we believe, is the National Weather Service, and to make public annually their process for analyzing their weather forecasts and to benchmark them against the other forecasts that are available,” Buchwald says.

Kevin Hansan is Town of Pound Ridge supervisor and United Westchester NYSEG Subcommittee Co-Chair.

“From our perspective, in this last storm, we were relatively pleased that, in that two years, NYSEG took our recommendations and started to applying [sic] them,” Hansan says. “And so, as a result, they did a very good job in terms of helping us become partners in terms of restoration and communications and, as you know, communications is the key to all this.”

A NYSEG spokesman says the report reaffirms that the company’s work to strengthen storm response efforts – including added emphasis on local municipal coordination and improved customer communications – has benefitted its service communities, and NYSEG looks forward to building on this progress. Requests for comment from ConEd and the telecom companies were not returned in time for this broadcast.

Recommendations for Altice and Verizon include fixing customer service tools and availability; issuing customers credits when they lose access to services; and, for Altice, upgrading infrastructure and powering network nodes during power outages.

White Plains Mayor Tom Roach is United Westchester Storm Hardening Subcommittee Chair.

“We recommend that the Public Service Commission require electric utility companies to submit storm hardening and system resiliency plans for a 10-year period," says Roach.

He also advocated the use of Smart Meters to track customers who are without power, creating a live interactive outage map for public viewing. Jonathan Lewis is a Village of Scarsdale trustee and United Westchester Emergency Services Subcommittee Chair.

“The conclusion from our survey of county municipalities is that the Westchester County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) are highly regarded,” Lewis says. “Twenty-five municipalities participated in the survey, and the consensus is that they fell well served and well supported by OEM and EOC.”

He says municipalities would like to see the county lead and coordinate a countywide comprehensive management plan that would include training activities, and the ability to obtain and distribute resources for storm recovery.  Latimer says the county intends to fulfill what Lewis laid out.

Again, Paulin:

“In identifying problems that need to be addressed, it is our hope that solutions will be developed, whether by these companies or, if not, by government intervention,” says Paulin.

Meantime, the PSC concludes virtual public hearings Tuesday on Con Edison. The hearings are part of the Commission’s investigation into electric utilities’ responses to Tropical Storm Isaias. The PSC held hearings on Central Hudson and Orange & Rockland Utilities in December.

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