July 17, 2012
IMPROVING STORM PREPARATION AND RESPONSE
By State Representative Elaine O’Brien
We all remember last year’s storms, particularly Storm Irene and Storm Alfred, which left a significant portion of our state without power for an extended period of time. We also remember the frustration over the inadequate response and lack of preparedness by our utility companies in dealing with such widespread outages and the massive amount of damage the storms caused. Fortunately, we also remember the terrific response our local emergency responders provided us by opening shelters and providing access to those in need. Personally I am grateful for all the people who stepped up and helped out during that time. It was such a great community effort that showed how capable people are of extraordinary effort when called upon.
While natural disasters cannot be controlled by anyone, the response to them is certainly controllable. This session we passed legislation that is intended to improve both the utility companies and the state’s response to future disasters.
After a series of public hearings by the legislature and other panels the General Assembly passed SB 23, “An Act Enhancing Emergency Preparedness”, signed into law by Governor Malloy.
The act addresses the concerns of the public health and safety, security and basic service responsibilities of utility, gas and telecommunications companies. The act enhances the oversight of the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security’s civil preparedness plan to specifically include public service companies.
After last year, it became obvious that a specific process of preparation and response needed to be established for emergencies. Participation in a statewide civil preparedness plan is required of electric utility, gas, telephone, water and cable TV companies, in coordination with all state departments and agencies.
Let me share with you, some of the important highlights of the law.
Under the law, The Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA), must open a docket to establish industry specific standards for electric and gas companies and PURA will report on those standards by November 1, 2012.
Standards that have been identified will be applied in instances where at least 10% of a company’s customers are without power for more than 48 hours. Electric utilities and gas companies are required to submit an emergency response report by April 15, 2013.
Specific standards to be considered include:
PURA is required to conduct a proceeding to establish standards for restoring telecommunications service within the state after an emergency. Those who have lost service will be issued a credit to their account.
Cell phone service providers must submit to PURA a report on backup power generation capabilities for cell towers.
A pilot program will be established to identify critical sites and facilities and to fund infrastructure for electric generation for such sites.
Increased communication between the Department of Transportation, Public Utility Regulatory Authority, municipalities and utilities will improve power restoration, road clearing, and undergrounding.
While the new law will not prevent storm problems, we have taken what we learned last summer and fall and used that experience to be as prepared as possible. I hope that these steps will offer you some reassurance that our ability to respond has been greatly enhanced.
Rep. O’Brien serves on the Commerce, Planning and Development and Transportation Committees and represents the towns of East Granby, Suffield and Windsor.