(Updated 1:23 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said a Witt Associates report concluded that Connecticut Light & Power was not prepared for the October Nor’easter, but the extent to which they were unprepared “is troubling.”
Instead of preparing for a storm where 500,000 customers would be without power it prepared for a storm with more than 100,000 customers out of power. One hundred thousand outages is about 10 percent of CL&P’s customer base, and a dramatic underestimation of the more than 800,000 that occurred in the pre-Halloween storm.
In Tropical Storm Irene it had more than 600,000 customers without power and in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria it had more than 500,000 customers without power at the peak of that storm.
“The extent to which they were unprepared is troubling,” Malloy said at a Capitol press conference. “More than 100,000 residents without power, the situation they planned for, a dramatic underestimation of the more than 800,000 outages that occurred.”
Speaking for CL&P, Northeast Utilities spokesman Al Lara said the storm changed the company’s perspective of what the worst case scenario could be and said the company would be taking a look at the policy.
“Worse case scenarios before this storm were very different in our imagination and the imaginations of a lot of people in New England,” he said.
Prior to calling for the review, Malloy speculated Witt Associates would find “some level of malfeasance,” but Friday he admitted that may have been too strong a word.
“Maybe I was strong in saying malfeasance. I think it was a problem at the very least,” Malloy said.
He said they did, however, fail to drill and plan for how to manage an increase in resources over a very short period of time.
The Witt report concluded that CL&P had difficulty managing the resources and crews when they finally got to the state and it failed to pre-stage crews prior to the storm, which impacted its ability to respond. CL&P told the Two Storm Panel that there were 3,505 unmet mutual assistance requests among the members of the New York Mutual Assistance Group at the peak of the storm. The report found it had 134 crews on call on Saturday and 146 on Sunday.
Charles Fisher, vice president for preparedness operations at Witt Associates, said the company does have an internal model for forecasting and did predict they’d bring power back by Wednesday, Nov. 9, even though they were telling the public they would have 99 percent of customers restored by Sunday, Nov. 6.
“I think it’s very important during a restoration event to communicate to your customers and to the local officials the status of your restoration plans. I think the company thoroughly believed at points that they could achieve that forecasted date,” Fisher said. “In the end it took them a little longer than that, but that became the focus, which I think is the issue.”
Malloy said he doesn’t think the company was “lying” when it said 99 percent of its customers would be restored by midnight, Nov. 6. Malloy said he thinks the company thought things would come together, but he remained skeptical and vocal about his doubt at press conferences during the recovery effort.
“I think they thought they could do it,” Malloy said.
But once CL&P said that the restoration efforts became the focus and everyone thought their power would be restored by Sunday.
“I think ultimately some of the communications were not helpful,” Malloy said.
“This was the largest power outage in the history of the state,” Fisher said. “You had literally thousands of workers out clearing roads and clearing power lines and putting the power back on and it was done without any fatalities.” He said that’s not as common as one may think.
Fisher said he thinks CL&P did learn from this event and appointing someone to head emergency management is a good first step. As far as the long term cultural issues within the company, Fisher said they didn’t have enough time to review those issues.
He did conclude in the 31-page report that multiple issues and recommendations identified in the report are not new.
“Issues such as scalability of management for large-scale power outage, the need for improved planning, training and exercise, and coordination with municipalities were identified in after-action reviews of prior outage events,” the report found. “The consultant team recommends an improvement process that is ongoing, monitored, and combined with a commitment to public-private sector cooperation.”
United Illuminating was also included in the report, but fared much better than CL&P. UI had fewer customers without power and it’s preparedness planning is much more robust. In a worst case scenario, UI plans for 250,000 to lose power, which is 71 percent of all customers.
Some of the findings in the report are as follows:
• CL&P was not prepared for an event of this size. The worst-case scenario in the company’s emergency response plan considered outages over 100,000 customers, or less than 10 percent of their total customer base. At peak, 809,097 customers – about two-thirds of its base – lost power as a result of the October snowstorm.
• CL&P did not lean forward by pre-staging adequate restoration resources in advance of the October 29 snowstorm; this delayed the recovery effort in the first days.
• CL&P developed an internal stretch goal to restore power to 99 percent of all customers by Sunday, November 6, even though they appeared to know it was more likely that they wouldn’t hit that goal until Wednesday, November 9. Without vetting internally, the company announced this date as a public performance commitment. This announcement, and a subsequent commitment to restore 99 percent of all customers in each of 149 municipalities by November 6, unnecessarily contributed to community angst and increased customer frustration and challenges for municipal governments.
The report also found that despite the length and extent of the service outages, and the effect on customers in the affected service areas, there were successes in CL&P’s power restoration effort. The report found that municipalities reported that power restoration crews, once they arrived in their communities, generally functioned well and efficiently. Stakeholders also praised the assistance from power company customer service representatives in answering phone lines in a timely fashion, with an average wait time of less than 45 seconds; this is frequently not the case in such a wide-scale event, the report found. And while it didn’t always work well the town liaison program was thought to be a positive step.
Lara said the company only recently received the report and has not had much time to digest it. But after hearing the Fisher’s presentation to the panel, Lara said the report address many of the same issues identified in CL&P’s internal review.
“We’re going to be viewing the findings of the Witt assessment and also the other studies that are underway as opportunities to continue to enhance and strengthen the emergency preparedness of our company and our response for our customers,” he said.
The utility has taken steps to improve its emergency preparedness, he said. CL&P has retained Davies Consulting, Inc., to evaluate its preparedness, he said.
It has also created new positions like the new senior vice president for emergency preparedness, he said. That position was filled by William J. Quinlan, previously the vice president of customer solutions. The company also appointed Dana Louth to the new position of vice president of infrastructure hardening, Lara said.
CL&P is in the midst of a nationwide search for a new president and chief operating officer to replace Jeffrey Butler, he said. Butler, who attended countless media briefings and received the brunt of the criticism from citizens, public officials, and editorial boards resigned on Nov. 17.
Fisher said Butler may have shouldered too much responsibility in the aftermath of the storm.
“In this situation you had one individual who was both running the operation, being the liaison to the state Emergency Operations Center and the governor’s office, and the public spokesperson for this event. That’s an awful lot to ask one individual,” he told the panel.
Fisher recommended CL&P delegate responsibilities to people with appropriate skill sets. Lara acknowledged that the public perceived Butler as being singularly responsible for many roles, but said the former COO had a lot of support staff helping him. He said it is one of the policies the company is reviewing.
CL&P will also be reviewing how best to manage the expectation of its customers, Lara said.
“One of our greatest concerns was the issue of expectations. We know that we let our customers down and especially the towns down by not being able to give them enough information to prepare for their shelters, to prepare for their own services,” he said. “That’s going to be a major thing we need to take a look at.”