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LIPA describes new storm response systems

LIPA has started work on a $6.5-million transmission-line

LIPA has started work on a $6.5-million transmission-line upgrade to deal with growing power demands on the East End. (Aug. 29, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey wanted to tell East End officials spearheading weather emergencies how the utility has changed its response to major storms, and the new ways customers can find out what's happening if the power goes out.

But an actual weather emergency turned that plan into a show-and-tell, minus Hervey.

LIPA officials have been talking to town supervisors and emergency service providers in the five East End towns for months about their new storm response systems, and wanted to have a community seminar to spread the word. It was scheduled for Thursday night in Bridgehampton, and Hervey was about halfway there when word came about the potential of imminent severe storm strikes on Long Island.

"I had to make a judgment -- to talk about storms or deal with one sitting in our lap," Hervey said. "Our response was right on track . . . it was something that was important to LIPA and to me."

Hervey concluded that showing how LIPA officials deal with a potential storm problem was more important than telling residents and local officials about changes in LIPA operations. So, he turned around and went back to his office.

The presentation, given by Hervey's staff, still got good reviews from local officials.

"We left feeling better informed than when we got there," said Frank Zappone, Southampton deputy supervisor. "There were about 50 community people there . . . They asked good questions about the [response] process and were given good answers."

Also attending were Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, East Hampton Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and police and highway department officials.

Dougherty, who took a ferry in the storm to get to the meeting, said he saw signs LIPA has improved its storm response.

"I think they're ready," he said. "They had a truck stationed here [before the storm] in case something happened."

LIPA officials have been making changes to their storm response operations since Tropical Storm Irene hit last August, knocking out power for 523,000 customers -- almost half the network -- leaving some without power for several days. Many complained that, in the days that followed, it was hard to learn when power would be restored.

Among LIPA's changes:

Revamping its storm center website to make it easier to navigate and offer more useful links;

Creating apps to let smartphone users report outages and track estimated repair times;

Converting the utility's local emergency response number to a national number so friends and family in other states can get information about loved ones on Long Island;

Setting up regular calls to every supervisor and mayor on Long Island to update them on storm events and progress.LIPA crews will also go with public works and highway department workers when they first go out, speeding up the clearing of fallen trees and utility poles.

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