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O&R Reps Talk Post-Hurricane Repairs

At a legislative meeting Tuesday three O&R representatives spoke about the preparation for the storm and what they learned from it.

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.

Day agreed.

“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.

Anthony September 28, 2011 at 07:25 PM
So when the big utility company (that gets paid tremendous amounts of money from their customers) can't watch their downed lines, and the PAID police department can't serve the public because it's a "waste of resources"..(wait, isn't that what they're SUPPOSED to be here for, you know, protecting the public??) ...yup, let's call on uncompensated volunteers to babysit for us. THAT's the answer?? I'm guessing, just from what I saw around town that day, that the volunteers had their hands pretty full already....for no money. Please tell me this story is missing the sentence where they say O&R will pay for the service from the volunteers...How about the same pay scale and benefits as an O&R employee OR a CPD officer for the time they stand on the street keeping nosy residents away, and not some cheesy $100. corporate donation for their time....and I'm pretty sure the volunteers do not get the "same" training as O&R employees, as Trustee Gross stated above. So for all your blustering on about getting to the bottom of O&R's "horrible" storm response, Ed, the best you could come up with was an agreement with O&R to use local volunteers to supplement their forces?? Way to go, you've saved the "Day" once again. Your government at work, ladies and gentlemen.
Rockland County Legislator Ed Day September 28, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Just to clarify one item - the concept of utilizing volunteer firefighter and/or /EMT's, and possibly even retired law enforcement or fire officers, to secure downed power lines is not just to "ask" them to help, but for O&R to pay them a yet to be determined stipend for that service. Given all they do for this community, I believe it is one way we in government can work to give these heroes an opportunity to enhance their earnings should they desire to. This concept would both save taxpayer money and maintain proper levels of police patrol resources by freeing up police officers so they can respond to urgent calls for service.
Anthony September 28, 2011 at 07:29 PM
And the liability? Are they covered under O&R's insurance? Will they be able to have some sort of enforcement powers to stop Mrs. Smith from walking past them to take a photo of the downed line?? Hard to believe this is actually part of the discussion. The volunteers have enough to do. Leave them out of this.
Rockland County Legislator Ed Day September 28, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Anthony: With the edge you have, nothing I say or do will ever satisfy you, and that is OK. Pretty much everyone I have spoken to is very happy someone in government took the bull by the horns and is trying to address these issues. If you read and listen, the potential use of volunteers is a "concept" and remuneration, if the volunteers wish to avail themselves of the "concept" (their choice, not mine, and certainly not yours ... maybe they do not want to be, as you put it, "left alone") is "yet to be determined". And this would only be the case in overwhelming situations, as O&R handles it under normal circumstances. Your hatred of the CPD aside for a moment, there are only so many officers working a shift. Would you rather they babysit a downed wire or respond to the non stop calls for service in a storm and power outage? We should make people wait? Oh, maybe you would bring more cops in on OT? Yes, an excellent managerial idea, Anthony ... the taxpayers would love ya! And it should be obvious to most fair minded folks that the details (insurance, protocol, authority) would be defined PRIOR to any implementation. Frankly, I do not see Mrs. Smith fighting with a firefighter so she can jump on a live wire, but maybe it would help when her 5 year old gets away from her. And many last night agreed with that notion, including the volunteers, fire officers, and retired law enforcement personnel present. Shame you were not there; it would have been enlightening!
Anthony September 28, 2011 at 10:47 PM
"Hatred of the CPD"? Just what part of my post was that written, because I've read it again and can't seem to find it? Look again. That's right, it's not there. Way to stay on topic. I stand by what I said, that for all your "get O&R" rhetoric immediately after the storm.....“That was the best thing to come out of this meeting,” Day said. “The idea of utilizing volunteers is a home run.”...that was all you could come up with out of this meeting? What about the lack of crews you spoke of previously, the lack of preparedness on O&R's part , etc. etc...where are all those questions now? Were they answered? Were they even asked?
Rockland County Legislator Ed Day September 29, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Your ignorance is founded in one fact ... IF you were there, you would know the answers. The news does not report every little detail; IF one cares, you involve yourself. Done that for years, well before I got involved in government. To quote Chris Christie ... Get your a*s off the beach and learn something. You sit back and criticize issues you have NO first hand knowledge of. Were you there? Did you hear the testimony? No. You knew of the hearing. Did you come down? No. Why? Because YOU choose not to. You must be kidding ... don't you think that as an experienced detective I would ask-and get-the answers that we all need? And, in direct response-the questions were asked-and we got all those answers. But as a sniper instead of someone who wants to truly get solutions, you hide behind your computer and criticize. Be part of the solution, stop practicing "electronic courage"; come out from behind the comfort of your computer and do that. Frankly, I welcome that. If you REALLY and TRULY want to know what happened, call the Legislature and I would be happy to brief you. The number is 638-5100. I'll accommodate your schedule despite that I work in the City as a matter of course. If you truly are legitimate, I guess I'll hear from you. If not, well, you are a coward hiding behind a computer. Again, I am absolutely available to share what you, by choice, missed; I await your call. Absent that, I will be using my time to deal with more important matters from here on in, my friend!
Richard September 29, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Great quote, "But as a sniper instead of someone who wants to truly get solutions, you hide behind your computer and criticize. Be part of the solution, stop practicing 'electronic courage'..." Have to agree that we are all going to have to boot strap our way out of the mess we're in by becoming actively involved in making the tough decisions and changes. Funding the wars overseas is softly killing us with it's song. Here at home, too many of us expect government to take care of us from cradle to grave. That condition no longer exists. Yet, our politicians are seeking votes and that kind of talk tends to limit one's term in office. While we have differing opinions on how those changes take place, these times of polarization must end. Politicians and elected representatives need to tell the real story, sans spin. At the same time, blog-based sniper attacks contribute nothing to the solution and only add to the stalemate. Yes, we are all frustrated by our surrounding economic conditions. But changes will only begin to occur when the parties of No and YES both reach the point of MAYBE. It doesn't matter who goes first.
Rockland County Legislator Ed Day September 29, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Thank you, Richard, for your thoughtful comments. I would like to think that "agreeing to disagree" should be a starting point for dialogue as opposed to swordplay. Luckily, that opportunity has it's strongest potential in local government, which is why I enjoy it. One can have a positive impact on your community, and that is a very special thing.
Stephen J. Reich September 29, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Even though we have issues with O&R using contractors that pay substandard wages to do utility work on public streets, Laborers Local 754 would be happy to sit down with them to put together an "on call" list of trained Laborers to help them out in an emergency situation such as this. Especially when we have lead time. We can be reached at (845)425-5073.
Rockland County Legislator Ed Day September 29, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Thank you. Happy to convey that thought to them.
Richard September 29, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Remember, the goal is to get to MAYBE. Maybe not so simple. Will take a commitment to a paradigm shift on both sides to get there.

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