Governor orders state investigation into 'failed storm response' by utilities

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed the State Department of Public Service to investigate the “failed storm response” of Verizon, PSEG-LI, Con Edison and four other electric utilities.

“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,” Cuomo said in a press release today. “Their performance was unacceptable.”

“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 governor said.

“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.”

According to PSEG-LI’s online “outage map” tool, 287,831 customers were still without power as of 4 p.m. today, down from nearly 321,000 as of 6 o’clock this morning.

In Riverhead 2,402 customers remain without power, down from 3,500 customers this morning. The 1,800 customers still in the dark in Southold this morning dropped to 875 by 4 p.m.

Throughout the day yesterday and into the evening, PSEG-LI customers could not get through to the company to report outages by phone, text or web. The company’s outage map, which purports to provide customers with updates on repair and restoration progress and estimated restoration times, was inaccessible. See prior story.

In a press release last night, PSEG-LI said its communications capabilities went down because of problems with Verizon, which provides its telephone and internet service. Verizon did not respond to a request for comment.

County Executive Steve Bellone said today the call volume to Suffolk Fire Rescue and Emergency Services was “enormous” as a result of people without power not being able to reach the utility. He said the 911 system was overwhelmed by the volume with a 400% spike in calls.

PSEG-LI has begun to diagnose what the issue was so it can make sure it’s corrected, Bellone said.

The county executive reassured residents that “PSEG is aware of the outages.” The utility’s field operations are “separate from the communications issues” experienced during and immediately after the storm.

Bellone called Isaias a “dry run” for other extreme weather events the region may face this year.

“Correcting the communication issues is critical,” Bellone said. “This was a major problem. Communication in a storm is critical.”

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