With over $30 billion in federal aid now on its way for Hurricane Sandy relief, the New York State Senate’s Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery held a roundtable discussion in Rockland County to speak with local officials, utility companies, and emergency management personnel about the progress and challenges of the ongoing recovery efforts in Rockland and Westchester Counties.
23 officials gathered and participants provided critical input about the challenges they are facing and what steps can be taken to help improve preparedness and response for future storms.
Over 200,000 Rockland County businesses and homes suffered power outages, with nearly 40 percent of Orange and Rockland customers still in the dark one week after the storm. According to reports, Governor Cuomo's office presented financial costs to congressional leaders that showed Rockland County sustaining over $16 million dollars in government response and repair, including $35 million dollars towards schools, and $90 million dollars towards businesses affected.
In an earlier Patch Post of this roundtable discussion, state officials asked localities whether or not there should be privatization of the utility companies and Rockland agencies gave their post-Sandy recommendations.
After officials from each town and village spoke, Frank Peverly, Vice President of Operations of Orange & Rockland, gave his response to O&R's efforts during the storm.
Sandy v Irene
“The solution is not one person, not one company, not one agency. The societal implications of these storms is devastating,” said Peverly. “These events are rich in lessons to be learned. After 2011, we made changes to our plans. We had some successes,” he added that their answer rate was 50 percent during Irene in 2011, but 98 percent during Sandy.
“This storm, we had twice as many customers out than we have ever had. We had 80 percent of our system out of service … our restoration was 40 percent quicker than … during Irene. I do think we’re on the road to better restoration rates and better processes.”
Before the storm hit, O&R talked to crews in California and "are extremely appreciative of the (National) Guards’ service,” Peverly said.
“We’ll make the system more resilient and use enhanced materials to sustain what is the new norm (with these superstorms)," he said. He added that O&R has a Storm Hardening and Storm Resilience plan.
“Our system is nearly 30 percent underground, but to put the full system underground is probably not a practical or economical solution nor do we have the time to do it. But there are things we can do to harden the system and increase the survivability or preventing an outage from occurring. Resiliency is a community issue ... .having a system that can recover and rebound (quickly).”
He gave other possible solutions O&R needs to look into such as
- Putting certain wires underground
- More robust infrastructure
- Selective tree removal or more aggressive tree trimming.
- Enhanced material of greater strength and capability
- "Information is key and providing tools to our workers so that the process doesn’t fail them or (the public)"
“We communicated much better than we ever communicated, however, the information that our partners need, our rate-payers need … is perhaps not getting out there in the manner that it needs to be out there. This is not rocket science. It’s being able to funnel that information through the various channels to get to the people. To do that … we’re asking them (O&R’s systems) to do things that they were not necessarily designed to do and that needs to be changed to reach expectations.”
Peverly added that in February, O&R will begin individual conversations with towns and highway departments to fully understand how they can improve and move forward.
Meeting with Towns/Villages
“We need to take it to the next level and find out from them (the towns) what they can provide us in terms of resources,” Peverly said. “We have also worked closely with Gordon Wren and Chris Jensen … to figure out how can we better leverage government assistance to us.”
“Right here you heard the criticisms from supervisors and mayors,” said Carlucci. “What can we do so that when a crisis does hit, we can use the assets we already have in the towns and villages, the local work crews we have with Laborers Local 754?”
Senator David Carlucci asked if O&R would need legislation for any of their future plans, to which Peverly said that it was premature to answer that, but they would “appreciate cooperation” and help.
Stony Point Councilman Jim McDonnell said that patience has worn thin and the towns and villages want an individualized update on what happened on O&R’s end during Sandy in each of their localities.
“What we are doing is an extensive outreach effort,” said Peverly. “We want to hear all the assets the government has available … we don’t want make assumptions on what you (each locality) needs.”
After hearing from all the officials, Assemblyman James Skoufis said to Peverly, “There is a lot of people here who think that there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement. Have you been meeting with these people? … Clearly Stony Point has been reached out to and how many months later has it been? These concerns are immediate and these concerns are local (and vary with each town/village). You have to meet with them now, it can’t be six months down the road, it can’t be next year.”