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The Futility Company

County Executive Astorino described a “complete and utter breakdown in communication” with the futility company on News12. He’s right. Here's why.

Sandy came for dinner on Monday, 29 October, and stayed for 12 days and counting. Even if we never have another superstorm like Sandy, we will have many more semi-Sandys that deliver wind and water that may only be half as destructive as Sandy was.  That is bad enough to force change.

County Executive Astorino described a “complete and utter breakdown in communication” with the futility company on News12. He’s right.

From what I witnessed, storm recovery efforts have suffered significant failures in two key areas: information sharing and communications process.

I am not going to name names here, because there is plenty of blame to go around. But the key failures occurred with the futility companies that are our major service providers.

I would like suggest a few “worst practices” that need to change immediately.

1) Maps: Is there any reason why the actual maps of the primary electric lines, poles, transformers, and switches can NOT be given to every one of the municipalities, with that appropriate non-disclosure pre-cautions? 

The answer better be, “No!” And by January 1, 2013, every one of the County’s municipalities had better have the same schematic that the futility company’s distribution engineers work from.

2) Lists: Is there any reason why the special needs registry the County maintains has should not be shared, with appropriate confidentiality, with the local governments?

The answer better be “No!” And by January 1, 2013, … you get the picture.

Not equipping local city, town, and village managers with this kind of information makes assessing the critical needs much more opaque. After all, when the ^&*# really hits the fan, who goes to pick up the pieces? In every case, it is always the local police, fire, ambulance, and public works crew. So we should let them fight without one hand tied behind their back.

3) Maps (part 2): Is there any reason why the outage maps have to be so poor?

It became very clear early on that the outage maps viewable online were–I am trying to be charitable–a bit sketchy.  Why send everyone to a site–if they can get online–that you know is wrong, or, at best, ambiguous.

Why answer the phone and give people different and conflicting information about restoration, when their homes are on the SAME exact electric service loop?

Imagine, if we actually tried to crowdsource solutions next time, to bring the most customers back on line the faster by having more eyes looking at the situation. Ask the people.  They will tell you how to solve the outage.

Just asking...

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Lea Cullen Boyer November 11, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Thanks Leo! So true restricting the flow of information is a thing of the past. The only powerful move is crowdsourcing, sharing, learning how to utilize the resource of our community. We are tired of waiting for service, or lack there of, let us have a partner in the process.
Anne November 11, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Um...Special Needs Registry? My son is quadriplegic and needs electricity to maintain life saving equipment. I had a devil of a time evacuating him after our initial plan (that we had in place for over a year) fell through, on Saturday night, no less. The County PD (bless them!) was ready to take him to the barracks and keep him safe there. I haven't heard of a special needs registry actually being in place since it was an idea over 4 years ago. *Googling now...
Leo Wiegman November 11, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Ann: The County's registry is available at this (hard to find) link: http://keepingsafe.westchestergov.com/be-prepared/family/disabled-and-seniors In addition, I just learned from ConEdison's liaison to Croton that ConEdison maintains more than one list of customers that have priorities. They maintain an "LSE" list (Life Support Equipment) of customers who depend on critical life support equipment. In addition they maintain a "Medical Line" list of customers who are not on life support equipment, but are otherwise vulnerable in outages. Your son might fall into either of these categories. Try this page on ConEd's site: http://www.coned.com/customercentral/specialservices.asp
Area Man November 11, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Leo, While I understand your complaints and frustrations (we were out for 8 days and some of my neighbors were just hooked back up yesterday) I think we are setting ourselves up for the same result in the next big storm by hanging the lines back up. The grid is obviously vulnerable and aging. What is the solution? Burying the cables? (expensive) Cutting all trees within 50 feet of a power line? (good luck with that) Local micro-generation? (a power plant in every neighborhood. What kind of fuel?) Solar on every house with battery backup? (expensive and you have that pesky tree issue again) I don't know the answer...what do you think?
Leo Wiegman November 15, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Dear Area Man: You hit on one very viable solution: Roof-mounted solar systems with battery back for homes can pay for themselves in 5 to 6 years. They are less expensive than ever before for 4 reasons: (1) solar panel prices keep dropping; (2) NY state solar rebates cut the price by between 20 to 25%; (3) state and federal solar tax credits reduce your net out of pocket by another 20 to 25%; (4) the higher our electric rates rise, the more attractive a homegrown solution is financially. -Leo
Area Man November 15, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Can one have a grid-tied system with battery back up? My understanding is the tax credits do not apply to off grid systems. I currently have a 2.2 kw system w/o batteries, which left me in the dark with everyone else. I would love to add batteries, but the cost seems prohibitive.
Anne November 18, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Thank you Leo. We are on the LSE list and get the computer generated "you need to evacuate" type of calls prior to storms as a result, but that seems to be all they do. As to the United Way, I called them when I read your response and questioned as to whether Michael was on the list. I was promised a return call from a supervisor and haven't received one yet. Meanwhile, I used the link that you so kindly provided and registered anew, just in case. We'll see what happens. Thank you so much for your help!

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