Nat Grid had handle on storm response plan

A convoy of utility trucks from Indiana arrive A convoy of utility trucks from Indiana arrive at a National Grid staging area in Bethpage State Park. (Feb. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Joye Brown

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

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo didn't have much of a choice other than to shift management of the blizzard from the Long Island Power Authority to National Grid.

LIPA still has no chief executive and Cuomo has done little to fortify the state authority that remains responsible for managing Long Island's electric service since the governor began his aggressive push to privatize the service.

National Grid was asked by the governor's office to take the lead in handling storm response.

That meant being responsible for having manpower and materials in place before the storm and communicating to the public, and especially to customers, during and after.

On Friday, National Grid officials didn't know whether this was a one-time deal, or whether the private company would be called upon again to be the public face of storm management and restoration for LIPA through the end of their contract, which expires at the end of this year.

Publicly, Cuomo's re-branding effort did cause some confusion. One radio reporter used the phrase "National Grid, which was once LIPA" during one report. And a few other news outlets appeared unable to figure who was doing what, which added some confusion about whom customers were supposed to call.

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Let us be clear: National Grid's expanded job this time around -- apparently for no additional compensation -- was mainly coordinating response and handling communications. But they did so in coordination with LIPA, as its major contractor.

This time around, however, National Grid made use of its own emergency response plan, which is more detailed than LIPA's -- which had been revised, post-Tropical Storm Irene, with state input.

National Grid, as of Saturday, appeared to be up to the challenge. To be sure, the scope of this storm -- and the number of outages -- was relatively small compared with Sandy.

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Still, the difference in communication was remarkable.

During Sandy, when LIPA handled the effort, the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing: At times, customer service representatives and even the authority's communications professionals were out of the loop.

For this storm, National Grid made use of LIPA's outage reporting and other systems. In short, the authority and its contractor could not have dealt with the storm without each other.

As such, the blizzard was not necessarily an advertisement for a new way of doing things, with a private rather than public company.

It was an effort to get through a major storm with as little public-relations damage as possible -- for LIPA, but especially for Cuomo.

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The success of the communications and preparation effort is National Grid's laurel. Which is good. Because if things had gone differently, Cuomo, unlike last time, couldn't have blamed LIPA.

What will happen during the next storm? At this point, LIPA, National Grid and the rest of us are standing by.

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