Editorial: Too many cracks in Sandy response

LIPA worker Neil Williams, of LIPA's Emergency Services, LIPA worker Neil Williams, of LIPA's Emergency Services, is on the scene along Northside Road in Yaphank Monday morning to restore power. (Nov. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Today marks one week since superstorm Sandy let up enough for recovery to begin. Patience is wearing thin, and rightfully so. A nor'easter may soon bring heavy rain and 70 mph gusts, while we still reel from the last blow.

Nobody foresaw the length, depth and breadth of problems Sandy would bring. We're looking at acute societal issues, like homelessness, for months and months, and a rebuilding process that will take years.

There are aspects of this recovery that have gone well. Restoration of mass transit was fairly quick, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road deserve credit. Government leaders have radiated confident control, doing much to reassure residents. And neighbors have gone out of their way to help one another.

But storm recovery is personal. To anyone whose power is still off, whose children are cold, who hasn't seen a bucket truck on their street, there's been no progress at all.

Municipal officials say the Long Island Power Authority is failing in the same ways it did in past storms. LIPA is still not coordinating with towns or villages responsible for clearing trees. In storm recovery after storm recovery, last year's Irene included, LIPA has left municipal workers hanging, communicating poorly, managing the interplay of resources ineffectively. Officials say LIPA crews in many cases are accompanying town crews to damage sites, declaring those sites "not a priority," and moving on without anything having been accomplished, or de-energizing lines to allow trees to be cleared but not, then, repairing and re-energizing the lines.

Officials say these are methods LIPA has promised to abandon but still hasn't. And while an extraordinary number of "foreign crews" are here to help, are they being deployed effectively?

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Certainly LIPA has restored power to a lot of people's homes since, at the height of the outages, 945,000 locations -- more than 90 percent of the Island -- went dark. But just how many have had service restored, and when the rest will join them, is uncertain. More and more customers without service are saying their plight doesn't show up on the utility's outage map, which itself was out of service for hours on Monday, and they're getting the runaround on when they'll be reconnected. They are in cold, dark houses because they are scared to leave. They need power, and deserve information.

The gasoline shortage is another problem of miscommunication. The inability to get high-priority personnel the fuel they need has ignited tempers and jeopardized safety. Promises from officials that the gas shortages "will soon pass" haven't been enough, and now consumers are driven by fear to buy gas even when they're not running low. Getting fuel here and making sure stations could pump it were handled poorly. LIPA only yesterday made it a priority to restore electricity to gas stations.

There is also a shortage of hospital and nursing-home beds. The Nassau University Medical Center, normally full with 375 patients, is straining to serve as many as 560. Its A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility has an extra 50 patients, including some elderly people whose homes were destroyed and who have no family and no way to get their medications or meals. Portable federal medical stations are needed.

Sunday, NUMC requested help. Within 12 hours, state and federal officials working together flew 30 medical personnel -- doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others -- in from Texas to lighten the load.

Sandy has presented a massive , multilayered organizational challenge. It isn't ending anytime soon. There is still more to do -- and fast.

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