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PSEG unveils new emergency response plan

Louis DeBrino, Manager for Emergency Preparedness, talks to

Louis DeBrino, Manager for Emergency Preparedness, talks to the media about systems in place for emergency readiness at the H Lee Hennison Building in Hauppauge March 13, 2014. PSEG emergency preparedness held a meeting in Hauppauge with the public for a Q&A about the plan. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A new PSEG Long Island emergency response plan makes it clear that local governments are responsible for ensuring that flood-damaged homes are safe for electricity before the utility will restore power.

Confusion and disputes over whose role it was to inspect homes for electrical damage was a major point of contention in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, when more than 1 million Long Island Power Authority ratepayers lost power.

Louis DeBrino, manager of emergency preparedness at PSEG Long Island, said that while local governments have always had that responsibility, the roles are more clearly defined in the newly released 1,947-page emergency response manual, which was presented for public comment Thursday. No PSEG customers spoke at the public hearing in Hauppauge.

Better communication and operating procedures will be hallmarks of PSEG's response to emergencies affecting the electric system, the company said at the hearing. Part of that communication will be making sure that local governments understand their role in inspecting homes before power can be restored, DeBrino said.

Release of the operating manual for emergency response was among promised milestones PSEG had set as it took on management of the electric system in January. It had promised better response to outages during storms after superstorm Sandy crippled the Long Island grid and evoked widespread criticism of LIPA.

One of the big criticisms of LIPA was the lack of a uniform procedure for making sure that homes that were damaged by flooding were inspected and deemed safe before power was turned back on.

The new operating plan makes clear that local municipalities are responsible for making certain homes have been properly inspected before PSEG will turn back on the juice, DeBrino said, noting, "It's really not PSEG's role" to inspect homes or to pay for the inspections. During Sandy, some municipalities balked at hiring or paying for inspectors, forcing LIPA to hire them.

DeBrino said the new protocol calls for better communication with municipalities, which will tell PSEG "when it's safe to re-energize" an area that has lost power.

PSEG also will be somewhat less decentralized during storm response than previous LIPA contractor, National Grid, had been. Where National Grid deployed crews out of 80 substations across Long Island, PSEG will use half that number, DeBrino said. Substations during storms become mini-operating units, sending out crews and materials to finish the work.

While much of the focus of the report is on procedure and communications, several important improvements won't be visible to ratepayers until this summer. That's when PSEG is slated to roll out a highly automated outage management system, which is touted to supply better information to customers about when outages will be restored. LIPA and National Grid used a decades-old system that relied on paper maps and written tallies at days' end to report on progress.

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