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Utilities To Improve Communications in Irene's Wake

Responding to residents' frustration with UI's response time and communications in the aftermath of Huricanne Irene.

and the time to examine and how they can improve operations when natural disasters occur again in the future has begun.

This week the that are aimed to help shed a spotlight on how emergency response plans turned into action and what operations can be improved. 

In the , many of us did not realize the . With over 50% of all UI customers facing long term outage, UI faced the enormous task of assessing damage, prioritizing work orders and restoring downed power at nearly 10,000 separate locations. While we waited in frustration for updates on when power might be restored, 363 work crews (4 times the number typically on the road) worked to restore 75% of customers in three days and 98% in seven days. As we languished in frustration, UI work crews and our town police, fire and public works personnel went above and beyond the call of duty and did an extraordinary job.

During the public hearing, UI also candidly addressed shortfalls in emergency response planning and communications outreach. I received dozens of calls after the storm as Fairfield and Westport neighbors sought out information about damage assessment and timetables for restoration. Our conversations and your effort to share personal stories strengthened and informed my voice as I communicated with UI the frustrations you felt.

Over the next three years UI will be putting lessons learned from Irene into an updated emergency response plan. Two changes that will occur will include:

  1. Better use of technology to streamline internal communications. The trucks in the field will be upgraded with software to immediately update the systems that prioritize and direct work orders and all of this information will be more instantly shared with call centers to keep the public abreast of ongoing activity on the streets.
  2. UI realizes they can and must make enhanced customer communications a priority during blackouts. Having the call centers equipped with more relevant information will help, as will their plan to increase their use of social media, email and reverse 911 to share information directly.

What can you do? Make sure your contact information, especially a cell phone number or number that may be more likely to work during an outage is filed with the town and your utility. Help them find you when you might be hard to find. 

I hope it is many years before Fairfield and Westport experience a storm like Irene but with lessons learned and changes implemented we can all benefit as we strive to become more prepared and better informed.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jimmy Dugan September 21, 2011 at 10:50 AM
The legislature's public hearings are no more than a crude smokescreen for the state's complete lack of a coherent energy policy. We play the highest electricity rates in the country thanks to you and your Democrats passing the buck.
Tom Doyle September 25, 2011 at 02:03 PM
The prioritization of restoration efforts needs a lot more transparency. My understanding was that in westport downtown was the first priority followed by the beach and schools. Why downtown? Why the schools? There was clear push to not delay the start of school in spite of the fact most students had no power at home. It would have been much better to just bite the bullet and let CL&P restore power as quickly as possible.

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