After talking with many local residents, Rockland County Legislator Ed Day felt the biggest issues with how handled Hurricane Irene concerned communications.
And Day made sure to tell O&R representatives that at a Tuesday night forum held during the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting. Day said a lot of people told him they got a busy signal when trying to call O&R after the storm, and he mentioned another issue that he felt increased the problem: an online outage map. Day said that people were filing reports that their power was out but not seeing their homes listed on the online map.
“So when people see their house isn’t there, they keep calling and calling. It was a big contribution to the overload of the phone system,” Day said. “It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The maps really worked against them.”
The O&R representatives agreed that communication was an issue after the storm. O&R’s Ed Ortiz, vice president of customer service, spoke Tuesday night and said they are looking into different services that would expand the capacity of calls they could receive, and are working on smoothing out the online outage map.
“There are several options on how to expand the capacity with all the new technology that has come out, even in just the last 18 months or so,” said Michael Donovan, spokesman for O&R. “We just need to find the one that best fits the need of our customers. The president of our company is working on that, so it should get done pretty quickly.”
Day said he was pleased with how the hearing went, and with what the O&R representatives had to say. One big positive came out of the hearing, according to Day. When talking about the danger of down power lines, it was said that every down line had a police officer on hand until the line was fixed. Day said this was a waste of resources, and taking officers away from possibly more pressing issues.
Day said O&R should have asked volunteer firefighters and EMTs to help out, which Jim Tarpey, vice president of operations for O&R, said is something definitely being considered for the future. Joseph Gross, a trustee in the Village of Spring Valley, was the only audience member to speak at the hearing, and he agreed, saying the volunteers were not asked to help out despite having the same training as O&R workers.
“We could’ve been a big help,” Gross said.
“That was the best thing to come out of this meeting,” Day said. “The idea of utilizing volunteers is a home run.”
Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan was also at the meeting, and he said the police were lucky to have an O&R representative at the emergency operations center during the storm until power was restored to everyone in town.
Tom Brizzolara, director of public affairs for O&R, spoke mostly about the magnitude of the storm, saying it was the worst natural disaster to ever occur in O&R’s service areas in the company’s 100-plus year history. He said it cut power to more than 120,000 of O&R’s 300,000 customers, with about 45,000 our of 112,000 in Rockland losing power. Tarpey said there were about 1,400 trees down, which is normally a total they see in nine months.