Governor Calls for Investigation into PSEG ‘Failed Storm Response’ During Isaias

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gave an update on the storm from the county DPW yard in Commack on Wednesday.

PSEG-Long Island has restored more than 220,000 customers of the nearly half-million affected by Tropical Storm Isaias, which “packed an incredible wallop,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, but a problem customers had being able to report outages needs “a deeper look.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo said there was a failed storm response statewide. He directed the state Department of Public Service to launch an investigation into Verizon, PSEG Long Island, Con Edison, Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Orange and Rockland Utilities, and New York State Electric & Gas “to understand how such a failure could have taken place,” he said.

“We know that severe weather is our new reality and the reckless disregard by utility companies to adequately plan for tropical storm Isaias left tens of thousands of customers in the dark, literally and figuratively. Their performance was unacceptable,” Cuomo added. “The large volume of outages and the utilities’ failure to communicate with customers in real time proves they did not live up to their legal obligations. The fact that many customers still do not know when their power will be restored makes it even more unacceptable. The worst of this situation was avoidable, and it cannot happen again.” 

At the height of the storm and during the aftermath Bellone said customers could not get through to PSEG. There was in turn an increase in call volume through the county’s 911 system. Suffolk’s Fire Rescue Emergency Services experienced a 400% increase in volume of calls, he said. The county 311 line received more than 650 calls during the storm, mostly related to downed wires, trees and residents looking for assistance reporting outages.

There were an estimated 368,000 Long Island customers without power Tuesday evening, but the PSEG Long Island outage map only showed about 95,000 on Tuesday evening — with few outages shown on the East End. By Wednesday mid-day, the outage map showed 314,000 customers without power on Long Island, 181,576 of which are in Suffolk.

On the East End, the biggest outages are in Riverhead and Southold Towns, where 2,893 and 2,695 customers are affected respectively. In Southampton Town, where 1,762 customers are still without power, the Hampton Bays Community Center was opened as a cooling center today until 4 p.m. Face coverings must be worn at all times. Free Wi-Fi and charging stations will be available.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said his department had “a high volume of calls for trees down, road hazards, wires down and some power outages,” but added, “We do not have widespread power outages in town, so it did not impact our 911 as significantly as up west.” East Hampton Town currently has 714 customers without power.

While the utility acknowledged the problem, it said in a statement Wednesday morning that “the challenges we faced with our communications systems” did not impact restoration efforts. “We have still been able to assess the full extent of the damage and dispatch crews to the impacted areas.”

Daniel Eichhorn, the president and COO of PSEG-Long Island and chief customer officer of PSEG-Long Island and PSE&G, said in an 11 a.m. update Wednesday that the company had made “great progress overnight,” restoring power to more than 220,000 customers. “We have also overcome many of the issues with Verizon that affected our call center operations yesterday. We understand how critical it is to share accurate and timely information with our customers and we continue working diligently to fully resolve these issues.”

Customer have been urged to call the automated voice response system when possible at 1-800-490 0075.

While Bellone said it was too early to diagnose the exact cause for the problem, “It is critical that we determine that for storms moving forward. This was a tropical storm. This was a storm not expected to deliver that great of a punch. This hit us hard.”

Sustained winds of 40 mph and wind gusts of 65 to 70 mph, Bellone said, brought down 250 trees and branches on county roads alone, some of which were still partially closed because the downed trees are wrapped up in wires that it needs PSEG to remove first.

Smith Point Beach was closed for swimming Wednesday because power is out for the bathroom facilities. All county golf facilities are closed at this point.

PSEG called Isaias the strongest storm to hit the service area in years, causing severe damage with some outages that could last for an extended period. The county executive stopped short of calling for an investigation, but said “an analysis and understanding of what happened” was necessary before the next big storm arrives.

The utility company opened four customer outreach centers in western Long Island to provide people with free water and ice in a drive-thru service because of the extent of the outages. The locations are in Hicksville, Roslyn, Greenlawn and Brentwood.

More than 2,000 crews, including workers who were brought in from across the country, are working to repair the damage. In-house crews and contractors are working 16-hour shifts.

Downed wires should always be considered “live,” and PSEG reminded customers to stay at least 30 feet away from them and immediately call 911. Drivers should not drive over downed power lines and avoid large pools of standing waters where wires can be hidden.

While customers are asked to stay in their home, if they must speak to crew members, they should keep their distance of at least six feet due to COVID-19.

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