MetEd Holds Focus Group to Improve Storm Response
MetEd Holds Focus Group to Improve Storm Response
Pike County Dispatch, p. 1 - Thursday, February 7, 2013
by Ken Baumel
DINGMANS FERRY - In an effort to improve the electric untility's company response during emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy, MetEd last week held the first Community Focus Committee meeting in eastern Pike County.
The meeting, held at the Delaware Township building on Wilson Hill Road, included MetEd Regional Manager of External Affairs Marc A. Troutman; other MetEd Supervisors; Pike County and municipal officials from areas served by MetEd in eastern Pike, which include Lehman, Delaware, and part of Dingman Township; representatives from legislators serving eastern Pike and Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carl Wilgus.
Troutman briefed the group on MetEd procedures and asked for feedback. He supervises MetEd resource deployment during emergencies in all or parts of Bucks, Northampton, Pike and Monroe counties.
Troutman asked how MetEd could improve response during future emergencies. He said "Based on the magnitude of Sandy, MetEd did't do a bad job, but we know we need better communications."
Troutman said that 300,000 MetEd customers, 55% of their customer base in his service area, had no power during Sandy, which did significantly more damage than Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee. Sandy took out 113 miles of utility lines and 1,040 utility poles, compared to 143 poles during Irene/Lee.
Municipal Officials at the meeting, such as Lehman Supervisor John Sivick and Dingman Supervisor Tom Mincer expressed concerns related to Sandy, such as difficulties local officials had in getting up-to-date information from MetEd, difficulty reaching MetEd on specific locations where downed power lines forced road closed, and not getting timely feedback about when power would go back on.
Wilgus noted in an interview after the meeting that he had expressed his displeasure about MetEd performance during Sandy as it affected the Poconos, particularly resorts such as Shawnee.
Wilgus said that hundreds of visitors in Pocono resorts had no power, which marred their local visit. He said he was aware that no two disasters are alike, but wanted more than MetEd assurances about the future. He wanted to see concrete steps taken to speed up MetEd restoring power and improving communication.
The committee meeting was a follow up to a Sandy emergency response stakeholder public hearing organized by state Senator Lisa Baker and held last month at Fernwood Resort in Middle Smithfield Township. Wilgus said that he first expressed his displeasure publickly at the Baker hearing.
Pennsylvania's 189th District Representative Rosemary Brown said at the committee meeting, "We need more realistic information from MetEd's customer service."
She and municipal officials in Pike noted that MetEd call-center information was often not up-to-date, sometimes providing inconsistent information, and in some instances, MetEd personnel were rude during Sandy.
Troutman said that MetEd would address those concerns. He said MetEd would pull up call logs to assess how employees fielded calls. If staff response is inappropriate, MetEd is willing to conduct employee education and training.
Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg suggested that MetEd employees might have been working more than six-hour shifts, which might have caused stress. He suggested keeping call-center people working less than six-hour shifts to reduce short-temper flare ups and possible burnout.
COMMUNITY WAS CUT OFF
Sivick said that he recognized that Sandy took out more MetEd lines and poles than other utility companies in Pike. However, Sivick said that downed lines closed Bushkill Falls Road and isolated a community development on the road.
Sivick said that absent a timely coordinated response to address downed lines by MetEd and clearning the road of downed trees by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot), the Township road crew had to blaze a temporary emergency trail to allow residents and emergency vehicles into and out of the community.
Mincer said, "Our priority was to first clear roads, then restore power. Its's all about roads, roads, roads. Without roads, we are screwed." He said that early during Sandy, Milford Fire Dept. cleared some lines to get a major road (Route 2001) back up.
"We know when the storm his where the problems were, what we have in supplies, and what our needs were. We need more direct communication between MetEd and us."
Delaware Township Supervisor Tom Ryan said that he obtained key MetEd numbers, so he did not have difficulty reaching MetEd during Sandy.
LIVE WIRES, OR DEAD?
Regarding MetEd, Ryan said, "In a lot of ways, you did great. We did get a lot of help from you, but we could have used better information during the storm. Getting a MetEd crew to a prioritized site was a problem.
"All we wanted was for MetEd to send on eperson to test a downed line. If it's dead, we have lots of people who love working with chain saws. We have tree cutters, not tree huggers."
Sivick, Ryan and Mincer expressed concern about specific incidents regarding a down line on a road when PennDot and MetEd crews could not coordinate their efforts, which then created road clearing delays.
Troutman said that when anyone calls MetEd during a storm regarding a particular location, the MetEd operator might be from out of state and might therefore have no idea about the location of the caller. MetEd would address this issue. He said "It's part of the education process." He is also studying ways to improve MetEd line-crew allocation.
Brown said that getting PennDot, MetEd, and municipalities to coordinate their efforts must be a priority. In answer to a question by Troutman about how MetEd could better access gated community developments, Mincer suggested that MetEd contact a Pike Community Development Association. Sivick suggested that MetEd first contact all township Emergency Management Agency directors, who would have maps, township Emergency Management plan, and key contact persons and phone numbers in the community developments.
Troutman said that although in the past, his office disseminated breaking infromation to Brown's district office, the townships were not on that distribution list. He said he would put the townships on the call and email list.
Sivick also asked MetEd and PPL to communicate more closely especially regarding Route 402, which traditionally has more power lines affected during storms than other roads in the area. Each of those power companies provides power on part of the road.
Explaining MetEd methodology to assure safety, Troutman also said that during a major regional emergency such as Sandy, "MetEd quarantines a circuit, shutting down the primary lines and distributor lines. We don't energize a line until the whole area is safe."
For example, during Sandy, in northern Monroe County and Eastern Pike, MetEd shut all circuits serving the cities and immediate rural areas. MetEd identified Stroudsburg as a priority area because it had the largest population. Stroudsburg therefore got its power back before Lehman.
Troutman said that he could not curcumvent this quarantine and prioritizing system, but could work to improve communication.
DELAWARE COMMAND STATION
Ryan explained the effectiveness of running a central command station and staging ground at the Delaware Township Building.
The building allowed county emergency response people, such as the Sheriff, Pennsylvania National Guard units, and key legislators to get up-to-date information. The command center facilitated getting federal and state National Guard help. It became a central collection and distribution point for emergency supplies such as water, ice, and food for local and adjacent municipal residents.
Troutman said that he is gathering feedback to address all concerns. One way to address the conerns might be to use a local staging ground to deploy MetEd crews, instead of an out-of-state one.
Sivick suggested a way to improve MetEd presence in Pike. He asked MetEd to contact Mountain Laurel Performaning Arts Center on Bushkill Falls Road for permission to use the site, which would have enough room for MetEd, PennDot, county, and municipal trucks and equipment.
Pike Emergency Management Coordinator Roger Maltby agreed. He said that Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) uses the Wayne County Fairgrounds, which is spacious. PPL serves northern and western Pike.
Mincer suggested MetEd meet with township road crews and fire departments to coordinate communication and response for future events. Sivick said that fire chiefs know immediately where the downed lines are located. He asked MetEd to contact local EMA first.
MetEd External Affairs Director Roger Heasley suggested that MetEd assign a crew in each township to respond to roads prioritized by each municipality.
Most attendees expressed satisfaction with the information exchange and apparent progress made during this first meeting and looked forward to working together in the future. Wilgus, however, took a "wait and see" posture.
He said he was not yet convinced that MetEd officials would make the needed changes to improve the utility's response in future emergencies.