Rockland County legislators requested a review of the emergency response to Superstorm Sandy last year, and at Tuesday night’s Public Safety Committee meeting Orange & Rockland Vice President of Operations Frank Peverly, as well as others, presented the committee with a review.
Peverly said O&R had three areas of concern they were looking to improve after Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm of 2011: call center performance, rate of restoration times and change the blueprint from which they put forth their storm restoration processes.
In terms of the first two, Peverly said there was noticeable improvement. He said they had a 50 percent answer rate for the two 2011 storms, and last year for Sandy that went up to 99 percent. The rate of restoration for 40 percent faster for Sandy than the October snowstorm and 30 percent faster for Sandy than Irene.
“Clearly, without a doubt, where we still have a lot of work to do — and truthfully the industry does, and that’s not an excuse, it’s just we all in the industry have to get to this point sooner and not later — the individual restoration time, the restoration time we tell customers what’s taking place,” he said.
However, Peverly said O&R’s communications have grown.
“We are communicating in more ways than we ever have communicated at Orange & Rockland to our customer base,” he said. “What we’re not doing is providing the critical information that our stakeholders can use to make informed decisions. And therefore, one of the keys areas we’re really working on is to try to get the information, which, clearly put, we have, but getting it in a matter that is useable and actionable to the people that need to have it, whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s firemen, whether it’s our politicians or whether it’s our customers.”
He also said they’ve made significant improvements in their process, although that’s not quite perfect either.
“That process was more of a regional base versus the traditional incident base, or individual house restoration. It’s very productive, it’s very efficient,” Peverly said. “It’s similar to how they manage restoration down in Florida in southern states where hurricanes take place. The problem is when we have that our models are more built for an individual incident restoration, and though we were able to manipulate our models to work this process, in order to get these in particular restoration times out to customers, we need to modify our models so we can get or leverage more information from our systems so that we can push it out to our customer base and the stakeholders that need that information.”
Rockland County Fire and Emergency Services Director Gordon Wren said that emergency response in the 1970s wasn’t that great, but it significantly improved before Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
“The last few storms, things haven’t gone as well,” Wren said. “I’m not sure exactly why.”
He said O&R still has work to do to improve its emergency response, and a few items he talked about included having representatives with more experience working with the county.
Wren also acknowledged that perhaps part of the reason the emergency response hasn’t been up to the previous level is due to the magnitude of the recent storms. He called the October snowstorm “unprecedented” and unlike anything the county had seen before. Peverly also touched on that when talking about upgrades being worked on for the distribution system.
“We have a new norm,” he said. “We all believe, whether global warming or not, that the weather patterns are changing and the events that we will see will be greater in scope and magnitude and we need to design our systems to handle that new norm.”
Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack also said he think it might be helpful if instead of meeting with different department heads, O&R could meet with a larger group, most likely those that make up the town’s Emergency Operations Center, so this way they’re all hearing the same information.
“We go into these things as a team, from the policy to the highway to our department heads to our town board to our public information officer, our town attorney,” Gromack said. “We’re all there and it might be helpful... if we all hear the same thing and have that discussion.”