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PSEG emergency plan called comprehensive, but unwieldy

PSEG Long Island's emergency response plan is "comprehensive and sufficiently detailed," but also "unwieldy and cumbersome to navigate," a state utility regulator wrote in requesting changes.

The state Department of Public Service, which has review-and-recommend authority over the utility, found that PSEG largely complied with the LIPA Reform Act and Moreland Commission recommendations for the plan, which details how PSEG will respond to emergencies like superstorm Sandy.

The 31-page report lists nine primary recommendations for PSEG, including that the utility reach out and educate customers with health and related needs "throughout the year," and create a procedure for coordinating restoration efforts with local gas utility and telecom companies in addition to one already in place with Verizon.

The report released by the department this month notes that the PSEG response plan is nearly 2,000 pages, and recommends paring it down.

"PSEG LI should review all the information currently in the plan for need, and streamline the information to minimize duplication, allow users to quickly locate information, and to reduce document management problems when edits and updates are required," the report says.

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said the utility welcomed the department's comments, and noted the plan, which "continues to evolve," would reflect the recommendations.

A large section of the report details PSEG's plan for re-energizing homes and buildings after flood damage. A draft version of the plan said local municipalities were responsible for making the decision to restore power. That outraged several towns, and PSEG responded by saying it would determine whether an electrical inspection was needed and recommend inspectors directly to customers. The decision eliminated that role for local governments, unless they wanted it.

The DPS report acknowledged that "collaboration with the towns and villages to develop a final inspection and certification process is ongoing," and said the state will be monitoring the process because "any revision made to these procedure must be made to the satisfaction of staff and reflect the concerns of public officials."

The final plan is expected to be in place on June 2.

The department noted that PSEG will benefit from a new computerized outage management system the utility is installing to replace an antiquated current system. The systems help utilities assess damage, deploy crews and accurately report on estimated restoration times.

While the new system will be rolled out this summer, the department noted that "full implementation will take place in stages over an extended period of time -- most likely years." It's the first time a yearslong integration of the $40-million-plus system has been disclosed.

The regulators said it was therefore "imperative that as the process moves towards full functionality the requisite process changes be integrated" into the emergency response plan.

While PSEG overall has a "sound approach to damage assessment" after storms, the department said the utility should provide guidelines "as to how quickly damage assessment should be accomplished."Further, while PSEG has in place "methods for estimating and refining" the amount of time it will take to restore power for customers, it is nevertheless "difficult to judge" whether PSEG's estimated restoration times "will be generated in a timely manner."

The report says that PSEG will use its customer outreach centers to distribute dry ice during prolonged outages, a practice lacking when LIPA and National Grid ran the utility. The report said PSEG has agreed to inform customers of the plan by news releases, its website, social media and its voice communication system.

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