LIPA executing well-planned storm response

LIPA electrical contractors work to restore power in LIPA electrical contractors work to restore power in Patchogue during Superstorm Sandy. (Oct. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

The man responsible for getting Long Island's lights on after the largest outage in the utility's history was preternaturally calm on Tuesday.

"I hear that a lot," Michael D. Hervey, the Long Island Power Authority's chief operating officer, said Tuesday.

More than 82 percent of the utility's customers were without power at one point, the result of slow-moving superstorm Sandy.

At LIPA's headquarters in Hicksville Tuesday, employees went about their duties -- analyzing storm information, dealing with customers, dispatching repair crews, loading transformers, wire and other needed equipment -- determinedly, professionally.

Like Hervey, they did not seem to be distracted by the fact that Long Island is depending on them; or that Andrew M. Cuomo, the state's governor, has put the utility under a microscope.

In one room, a team dedicated to Nassau County tallied damage information; in another, employees sat around tables, armed with work orders and maps -- where major outages were outlined in colored marker -- dispatching inspection and repair crews.

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On one wall, a map detailed substations, which are being used as mini-management sites; on another wall, there's a monster multi-page flowchart, detailing everything from the time of internal briefings, to when LIPA issues news updates, to when it has conference calls (twice a day) with municipal officials, to when it meets with contractors.

There have been changes after the communications debacle that was Tropical Storm Irene last year: In one room, employees are dedicated to passing information along via social and other media.

And, this time around, there are also New York Power Authority employees -- who were trained over the summer -- supplementing LIPA's efforts to manage the region's massive repair effort.

Ironically, Sandy's leisurely pummeling of the region helped LIPA's planning efforts, Hervey said.

"We had to stop operations outside because we didn't want to put employees in danger because of the storm's severity -- something I've never had to do in 31 years in this business," he said. "But, inside, we were able to concentrate on gathering and analyzing information so we could get a jump on Day One."

Day One. That, for LIPA, is the first day after the storm. Hervey said much of it -- along with Day Two -- would be spent assessing the storm's damage. During that time, employees will eyeball all 13,000 miles of the utility's distribution lines, he said.

The idea is to make sure the juice is running to LIPA's substations and then through the utility's spine before repairs begin on smaller capillary lines. Then, the rate of repairs will begin to accelerate, he said.

There is a hierarchy for repairs, with emergency services, including hospitals, fire stations and government buildings, going first. Then come other needed institutions such as schools and shopping districts so the public can get supplies.

Along the way, the utility also will work to restore service to areas with large-scale outages. The bigger the outage, the quicker it will be repaired. Which means neighborhoods -- like mine, alas -- with a smaller number of outages will wait longer.

Meanwhile, probably by the end of the week, LIPA intends to let customers know what day LIPA expects to restore their service. That would be a first, said Hervey, whose home also lost power.

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For most of Long Island, that also would amount to a welcome promise of light at the end of what looks to be a very long, very dark tunnel.

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