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Report: LIPA notification during Irene poor

Jamie Young, of Bellport, Shawn Pizzo, and Mohammed

Jamie Young, of Bellport, Shawn Pizzo, and Mohammed Hasidi, both of Medford, make their way down a flooded Smith Street in Patchogue in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. (Aug. 28, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Long Island Power Authority lacked the basic technical capability to tell customers when their power would be restored following Tropical Storm Irene last summer and failed to act on a consultant's 2006 recommendation to replace a crucial computer system that would have provided the information, according to a newly released report.

The 112-page report, commissioned by the state Department of Public Service, called LIPA's efforts to restore power during Irene "adequate," but identified breakdowns in the authority's communication, notification and outage management systems, as well as basic faults in its tree-trimming programs. LIPA said it has already fixed most of the problems.

The Long Island Power Authority endured withering criticism from public officials and customers following Irene. The August 2011 storm knocked out power to 523,000 customers -- about half of LIPA ratepayers. It took LIPA and its contractor, National Grid, a week to restore power to all impacted customers. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the review of LIPA, along with all other state utilities.

One of the biggest complaints was that LIPA did a poor job of telling customers when power would be restored.

"Customers were not able to make adjustments to their day-to-day living requirements without electricity, nor did they have knowledge of when things would return to normal," the report says.

But for the first time, the report showed LIPA simply "did not have the necessary tools in place for developing . . . [restoration times] for a storm of this magnitude."

LIPA is addressing that shortfall temporarily with a fix to an existing computer system and later plans to install an entirely new system, said chief operating officer Michael Hervey at a trustees meeting Thursday.

The report identifies the lack of the computer system as a major source of customer frustration.

"One of the most significant problems identified in this report is that the outage management system . . . [was] outdated and the capacity to provide estimated time of restoration during a catastrophic event does not exist," the review found.

The report noted that a 2006 study by a consultant recommended that "the outage management system be replaced due to these very same failings. Despite the recommendation, the system replacement was not made. LIPA has since undertaken [its] replacement."Another big problem is related to telecommunication system failures.

The review found a "significant" number of initial calls to National Grid's call center were blocked from a Verizon central office switch that routed calls to the call center. Customers who did get through experienced "substantial frustrations" because the operators weren't able to provide estimated restoration times.

Another big problem: LIPA's tree-trimming practices lagged.

"While outages from trees cannot be eliminated, the review found there are a number of steps that should be taken to lessen the effects of tree-caused outages associated with major storm events," it said.

The report said LIPA didn't use data from pole surveys to prioritize storm-hardening projects. In addition, recommendations from a consultant's 2006 survey of storm-hardening initiatives were implemented "slowly or incompletely ... There remain many improvements that could be made at a reasonable cost," the report said.

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