Eversource utility truck
An Eversource utility truck parked on the side of the road. Credit: Actium
 / Shutterstock

Eversource has to improve how quickly it responds to priority public safety calls as well as revise its procedures regarding the reporting of such events, according to a final decision approved Wednesday by the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).

PURA’s commissioners voted unanimously, 3-0, to approve the decision, which follows an investigation into a January car crash that resulted in two individuals remaining trapped in a dangerous situation for longer than they should have been after their car struck a utility pole in Norfolk.

Representatives from Eversource, meanwhile, say the company will be looking at its options to legally challenge the decision.

PURA Vice Chairman Jack Betkoski praised the work of PURA’s staff in conducting what he described as a thorough investigation, adding public safety is a priority for PURA.

“I hope we have some lessons learned here moving forward in protection of the public,” Betkoski said.

According to the decision, PURA is requiring that Eversource respond to “blue-sky priority 1 events” within 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes. The blue sky refers to situations where weather is not a hindrance to responding.

The Norfolk accident was deemed Priority 1 based on a life-threatening situation created by live wires falling on the vehicle, preventing emergency responders from performing rescue efforts.

“The company’s actions delayed its response to the accident, which in turn delayed Norfolk Fire Department’s extrication of the individuals entrapped in the motor vehicle and the first responders’ administration of aid and transport of the individuals to a trauma center,” reported Kathryn Keenan, staff attorney for PURA, to the commission.

Keenan, in presenting the final decision to commissioners, said Eversource did not assign a response specialist until 17 minutes after the call despite knowing the location of the accident and that it involved the entrapment of people within the first 40 seconds of the call.

In addition, once a response specialist was assigned, Eversource did not assign the fastest available one, in violation of its own policy regarding the handling of priority 1 calls, according to the decision.

While a specialist was available 17 miles away from the accident, Eversource assigned a specialist who was 26.6 miles away from the accident. That specialist did not arrive on the scene until 54 minutes after the call came in, according to the decision.

Through the final decision, PURA Is requiring that Eversource review and revise its accident response procedures as well as additional reporting requirements. PURA contends that Eversource’s reporting in the Norfolk case violated certain statutes and regulations, and may be answered with notices of violation.

While Eversource is required to provide an Immediate Accident Report to the Authority within 24 hours of the company’s discovery of the major accident and to provide a Five-Day Accident Report within five business days of the major accident, the company took around 72 hours to provide the immediate report and eight business days to report the Five-Day report to PURA. The quality of the reports was also lacking, according to PURA.

“For example, other than providing the date … Eversource provided very limited information about the actual event, i.e., it did not report that it took Eversource 57 minutes to arrive at the scene of the accident,” the report states.

In a response issued on Wednesday, Eversource representatives said the company handled that January call appropriately. 

“The Eversource team that responded that day followed every procedure and acted with the highest level of responsibility and responsiveness,” said Tricia Taskey Modifica, an Eversource spokesperson. “We commend the Town of Norfolk for their quick and capable actions as well. While we always strive for improvement, we do plan to exercise our legal options to challenge today’s decision.”

Union personnel from Local #420 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, also submitted a letter, dated Aug. 8 and signed by Business Manager Joseph A. Malcarne. It says PURA’s decision does not take into account the various challenges posed to people charged with responding to these calls.

“We have to adhere to traffic rules and speed limits. We have to drive around small roadways including the Merritt Parkway and roads with short bridges. We do not have lights or sirens, and the population in CT does not get out of our way,” according to the letter. “If we are coming from another location, we need to take time to shut down our current work.”

IBEW further argues that workers should have been given a chance to provide input about 30-minute response times.

“The personal safety of our IBEW members shouldn’t be jeopardized by artificial, arbitrary deadlines that PURA is setting with no input from our members, no notice and no process to set the standard. This ruling can jeopardize the health and welfare of IBEW members who work faithfully on the lines and we want to respond to emergencies in a timely manner but also safely because we have families and loved ones at home as well. We ask PURA to allow process before this rule is mandatory.”

In late July, Eversource had filed a response to the draft decision PURA issued.

The company rejected that its response to the accident was delayed due to imprudent actions and that its reporting of the accident violated state statutes and regulations.

In its response, Eversource said that a response specialist was assigned around eight minutes – as opposed to 17 minutes – from the start of the 911 call. Eversource argued that its response was reasonable considering the circumstances, adding that it had to confirm pertinent information as it worked on responding to the accident.

“The record also shows that there was conflicting information entering into the equation due to the complex circumstances set off by the accident,” the response states.

PURA’s mention that Eversource knew within 40 seconds that people were entrapped does not allow for the company to gather the necessary information, according to Eversource.

“Eliminating the priority of information gathering before the dispatch of resources and subjugating the possible de-energization of downed facilities would fundamentally change the equation for the Company’s response protocols and substantially increase risk across the universe of emergency situations that come to the Company,” the response states.

Eversource also objected to the 30-minute response time standard, adding that time pressure and safety issues would be likely as it would cause human error.

PURA Chairwoman Marissa P. Gillett said Eversource will be given an opportunity to explain situations where they could not meet that 30-minute target to respond to such calls.

“But the authority has found ample evidence to suggest that this is an appropriate action at this time as described in the final decision,” Gillett said. “I want to thank the staff for a full and fair and thorough investigation and recommendations coming out of this event.”