Christine Stuart photo
William Quinlan of CL&P, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and John Prete of United Illuminating (Christine Stuart photo)

One utility executive described the storm headed toward the east coast as “Irene-like.” What’s not “Irene-like” is the duration of the storm, which if it hits is expected to last up to 36 hours.

Meteorologists are still unable to predict exactly where or when Hurricane Sandy — dubbed “Frankenstorm” by the National Weather Service — will hit Connecticut. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that if it makes landfall in New Jersey, Connecticut will see stronger winds replicating those of a Nor’easter. Those winds could last up to 36 hours when Irene and last year’s October snowstorm produced winds that lasted for 12 to 18 hours respectively.

The storm, like Irene last year, could hit at high tide on Monday, Oct. 29, under a full moon.

“It’s entirely possible that through that period of time we could be experiencing winds of up to 40 mph,” Malloy said Friday during a Capitol press briefing. “That will severely limit the ability of these two utilities to respond to whole outages for the duration of that storm.”

He said the public needs to prepare for substantial periods of time in which reactions can not be made. However, Malloy said the utilities are well aware they’re under pressure to recover as rapidly as possible given the conditions and damage.

“I along with all the other citizens in the service area are watching,” Malloy said.

Connecticut Light & Power, which received criticism last year when it failed to get enough crews to the state prior to the October storm and was unable to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers for up to a week in some cases, covers about 149 towns in the state. United Illuminating covers about 17 towns in the state near the shoreline and received a lot less criticism for its restoration times than CL&P, whose CEO resigned after failing to meet a restoration deadline he set.

William Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency operations for Connecticut Light & Power, said they’ve tried to get 2,000 additional linemen to the state before Sunday afternoon.

He said the utility, which was widely criticized for its inability to get contractors to the state following last year’s freak October snowstorm, said they secured the commitments and are pre-staging crews as early as Sunday in four locations throughout the state.

Since there’s been a significant demand for crews up and down the eastern seaboard, Quinlan said most of the crews making their way to Connecticut will be arriving from the Midwest.

Once those crews get here, they will not be left to fend for themselves. Quinlan said they have employed new technology and will be able to communicate more effectively with the crews in the field. He said they’ve also spent time over the past year cutting twice the normal amount of trees, which caused most of the damage during last October’s storm that arrived on Oct. 29th.

But Frank Cirillo, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 420, still has his doubts.

Cirillo said there are fewer linemen with CL&P than there were a year ago. He said they had 420 linemen during last year’s storms and are down to 407.

“One year later and there still isn’t enough staff to adequately serve the residents of Connecticut,” Cirillio said.  “Connecticut ratepayers deserve safe and reliable power, and it’s time CL&P and Northeast Utilities stop putting profits before our communities.”

The IBEW is currently working without a contract. It has been in negotiations with Northeast Utilities, the parent company of CL&P, since June. It has received a sanction from its national office to strike and refuses to agree to a contract that doesn’t increase the number of linemen.

Mitch Gross, spokesman for CL&P, said the company continues to have conversations with the union and hopes to reach a deal soon. But in a storm he said both the utility and the workers have the same goal: to restore power to its customers.

“We will work together to accomplish that goal,” Gross said Thursday.

John Prete, senior vice president for United Illuminating, said they’ve brought in the same number of crews that they had at the peak of Irene. So they expect to have 600 line, tree, and damage assessment crews ready to go on Sunday.

The telephone companies, like AT&T, also are preparing to deploy additional assets to the state.

John Emra, regional vice president of external affairs, said over the past year they’ve installed devices on their cell towers which allow for a generator to be hooked up quickly.

The backup batteries the company has on the cell towers will last for about 10 to 16 hours before a backup generation unit is necessary, Emra explained.

More than 300 towers carrying AT&T cell service went down during Tropical Storm Irene because they didn’t have permanent backup generation like some other carriers in Connecticut.

With landfall for the storm predicted any where from Delaware to Boston, Emra said they will deploy their resources as more information becomes available.

The state debated forcing cell towers to have permanent backup generation when reviewing the utilities performance earlier this year, but decided against it.

Malloy encouraged residents to fuel up their vehicles because last year’s storm taught the state that many gas stations don’t have backup generation. He said a trip to the ATM doesn’t hurt either since the payment systems at the gas stations that are up and running may not be able to accept credit cards.