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LIPA Officials Return To Great Neck With Updates

The problem of a lack of communications during and after a storm has been addressed by LIPA

As promised, Long Island Power Authority officials returned to the Great Neck peninsula to report on progress in addressing unreliable electric service, power outages and the chaos following storms. In the aftermath of last August’s Hurricane Irene, LIPA Vice President of T&D Operations Nicholas Lizanich and LIPA District Manager Lauren Brookmeyer spoke with Great Neck officials at a Great Neck Village Officials Association meeting. Local mayors expressed major concerns and much frustration at the mishandling of the storm damage repairs and cleanup. A lengthy, heated meeting ended in a pledge from LIPA representatives to immediately address the issues and report back to the mayors in six months.

Last Wednesday, May 30, Mr. Lizanich and Ms. Brookmeyer returned to speak at a GNVOA meeting. Mr. Lizanich said that LIPA had taken into consideration the reports and comments from local officials and from LIPA customers. And he said that industry professionals had also critiqued reports regarding service and repairs. Mr. Lizanich said that “early lessons have been learned” and LIPA now has a good idea as to how to better respond to an emergency. Following a report from the New York State Public Service Commission, LIPA realized that they really do need better communications. LIPA then reviewed the report again and results were expected during the following week.

Things must now be “done differently” Mr. Lizanich explained. First, he said that “communications with government officials need to be enhanced.” During and after Irene, the phone number that LIPA had issued to local mayors was “compromised” and instead of 130 people having access to this number, 10,000 calls per hour came through this telephone line. And so, now there is a new process, a new way for local mayors to contact LIPA in an emergency. If that number is compromised, the new system has the ability to “roll over” the number. Mr. Lizanich explained the importance of such easy access, since members of the public come to village hall for emergency information and the mayors must have the most up-to-date information.

Mr. Lizanich continued, addressing the reality of the chaos following Irene, when local public works departments, police officers and firefighters were ready to clear roads, but had to wait for LIPA crews to first check to see if live wires were involved. In the future, LIPA first responders will work with local emergency crews to ensure that dangerous main roads are quickly assessed by LIPA so the local workers can quickly proceed with cleanups. LIPA will dedicate a portion of the restoration workers (a large crew) to just address clearing roads. According to Mr. Lizanich, this plan is already in place.

LIPA now also has a revised system of prioritizing. And he said that the mayors will soon receive letters explaining this process.

Also new, since December, is the ability for LIPA to set up local control centers and sub-stations during emergencies. Local command centers will be able to direct local restoration, receiving strictly local information so they can determine areas of greatest need and dispatch crews immediately. This new, more localized system will also better be able to tell customers when their power will be restored. And the new addition of “master planners” will also help with prioritizing.

Along with all of the new set-ups, Mr. Lizanich said that more management employees will be assigned to deal with power outages. This part of the plan will be implemented by the end of this year. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Mr. Lizanich added that LIPA “continues to struggle” with the job of deciding just how much in advance to call for back-up help to stand by when a major storm is predicted. He said that the entire industry is currently addressing this issue. As for LIPA, they do plan to enlist outside help earlier than the time frame surrounding the last big storm, Irene.

Along these advance-planning lines, he also said that LIPA will work diligently to secure permission to cut trees down or trim trees that could fall during a storm and take down wires. In instances where residents do not want their trees cut, LIPA will enlist the help of local mayors to convince their residents of the need. “We plan to be more proactive,” Mr. Lizanich told the GNVOA members.

Stating that “daily communications” are important, Mr. Lizanich said that LIPA is working to improve outreach to government officials and to customers and they are developing plans to educate customers as to responses following a power outage.

Noting LIPA’s “overall good reliability compared to the industry,” Mr. Lizanich did recognize that “there are still pockets” (where electric service is not as reliable as it should be). “Our work is not done,” he admitted. “It is a work in progress … we recognize major deficiencies and we are working on them.”

Mr. Lizanich promised that “the public will begin to see our work.”