Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 07 October 2011 00:00
“We have a lot of room for improvement,” said LIPA Vice President of T&D Operations Nicholas Lizanich as he addressed the Great Neck Village Officials Association last Monday evening, Sept. 26. Mr. Lizanich, along with LIPA District Manager Lauren Brookmeyer, explained LIPA’s planning for Hurricane Irene, discussed what went wrong, and asked for input from the gathered public officials.
Recognizing the problems with communication during the hurricane, Mr. Lizanich said that Ms. Brookmeyer was newly hired to provide more “outreach” during a crisis. Ms. Brookmeyer is set to interact with local officials on a daily basis especially during a storm.
Mr. Lizanich, who recently came to Long Island following much time in the Mid-West, has over 30 years of experience with large utilities, and, in his own worlds, he came to LIPA “to fix the problems.” He emphasized that local input is important and that he would take this input back to LIPA headquarters.
Mr. Lizanich said that LIPA had developed a hurricane plan, including advance plans and response plans, and had them in place for Hurricane Earl, which did not hit Long Island. A “table top” exercise had been held in July. And LIPA planning for Irene began days in advance, over 90 hours in advance. “We were ready for the storm, we thought we had a good plan, we thought we did well, but we can do better,” Mr. Lizanich said.
The problem, he said, was that though LIPA asked for 2,000 crews, due to the hurricane also expected to hit way south of New York, crews were tapped for the southern areas too. About 1,000 crews did come in time for hurricane restoration for LIPA, but the other 1,000 did not arrive until four days after Irene hit Long Island. Eventually, Mr. Lizanich reported, there were over 5,000 people in the field on Long Island.
In addition to the lack of enough crews, Mr. Lizanich spoke of logistical issues. Although there were 48 substations set up, these substations did not follow political boundaries and often caused confusion for residents who did not know where to turn for answers.
“We failed on communications,” Mr. Lizanich told the assembled mayors. “We can do better, we will do better,” he said. One part of the failed communication concerned the Nassau County EOC’s set up to collect reports of problems and pass them on to LIPA. The EOC’s need a computerized system where reports can come in and be sent on to the right place for all repairs to be scheduled.
Mr. Lizanich next spoke of priorities. He spoke of hospitals, nursing homes and critical life support facilities as high priorities; but he also noted that individuals who need specific treatments should make plans in advance. He also spoke of the critical need to open up main arteries and the need for LIPA to be told which roads are critical. For example, during Irene, Bayview Avenue, one of only three main arteries on the Great Neck peninsula, was blocked for days by fallen trees.
Later in the meeting, Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman suggested that LIPA coordinate with local municipalities, as in the Old Village, the mayor could have provided crews to remove trees once LIPA certified that there were not live wires involved. Mr. Lizanich then noted that LIPA is in the process of putting in a new system that would allow such information to flow. And, along similar lines, he noted another tree-related problem —- the fact that the storm took down otherwise healthy trees, often uprooting these trees.
Again, Mayor Kreitzman stressed the importance of coordinating with local government, allowing local government to help in restoration efforts. And Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy also touched on the importance of communication, noting that each storm could bring about different emergency/priority issues.
When questioned by mayors were virtually unable to reach the special LIPA number set up for public officials, Mr. Lizanich said that the “number had been comprised” and 10,000 calls were received, tying up the line for the calls from public officials. A new, dedicated line is being set up.
Former Great Neck Estates mayor Eddie Causin’s advice was for LIPA to keep in touch with local municipalities during the storm, even if only with automated updates. The public officials should know of priorities and be told of priority changes. At that point Mr. Lizanich asked about local contact numbers and was told that was available through the GNVOA.
Local control was emphasized again when Robert Lincoln spoke. Mr. Lincoln who serves as a commissioner for the Great Neck Park District, is also a former Vigilant Fire chief and currently is superintendent of the Nassau County Fire Service Academy. Mr. Lincoln told of how he identified a way to restore power to 50 homes almost a week after Irene, and with the help of Mayor Kreitzman, was finally able to reach LIPA and have someone come to rather quickly do the work.
Mr. Lincoln suggested having information access with substations, allowing local municipal workers to help, and thus restoring power to a substantial number of homes in an easier manner. Mr. Lizanich readily agreed that local help would have certainly eased the work and would be happy to have local municipalities share their crews.
Mayor Kreitzman noted that North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman had asked for, and received permission to have his crews trail LIPA crews as they cleared wires so town crews could remove trees. The mayor said that his village did the same.
Questioned by Mr. Causin if there is any outside panel to assess LIPA’s work, Mr. Lizanich said that they already had in place an outside panel to do “operational audits.”
After a long evening, Mr. Lizanich assured that “we do value your input.” And GNVOA President Susan Lopatkin, mayor of Kensington, asked Mr. Lizanich to come back in six months and report if there has been any progress and if any input from Great Neck officials has been considered.