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Report: Connecticut utility not prepared for storm

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2011 file photo, Connecticut Light & Power workers tend to a high voltage power line in Windsor Locks, Conn. Over 90% of the town has been without power since the Oct. 29, 2011 snowstorm. Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents went to bed wondering whether they would awake Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, to find themselves among an unenviable fraternity: the small percentage of people entering their second week without power. ((AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File))
December 2, 2011 3:05:42 PM PST
Connecticut's largest utility failed to put enough repair crews in place before a record-setting October snowstorm, causing delays in restoring power to customers and leaving some in the dark for up to 11 days, according to a consultant's report released Friday.

The report by Witt Associates, led by former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt, said Connecticut Light & Power Co. was not prepared for a storm as damaging as the one on Oct. 29, which knocked out power to about 809,000 of the company's 1.2 million customers in the state.

Nearly 3 million homes and businesses across the Northeast lost power after wet, heavy snow brought downed scores of trees still full of leaves and power lines. But Connecticut customers were among the hardest hit.

Witt Associates said CL&P's emergency response plan envisioned a worst-case scenario of only more than 100,000 outages, or less than 10 percent of its customers. The 46-page report, which Witt did for free, includes 27 recommendations for CL&P including that the company improve its planning, procedures, training, pre-storm crew preparation and communication with government officials and customers.

"CL&P was not prepared for an event of this size," the report says. "Preparedness ... for a widespread power outage and/or infrastructure damage event is inadequate across all sectors."

The report also said, "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."

The report said CL&P did begin placing crews on standby the day before the storm and pre-positioned 30 contractors to fix expected damage before the storm - the first time in the company's history that crews had been pre-positioned. The report said CL&P had nearly 500 line and tree crews working on the first day of the snowstorm, a number that increased to more than 2,900 nine days after the storm as crews from other companies provided mutual aid.

CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said the company would be issuing its response to the consultant's report later Friday, after the Witt report was presented to the state's so-called Two Storm Panel. The panel is reviewing utility companies' responses to the October storm and Tropical Storm Irene in August, which also knocked out power to more than 800,000 homes and businesses in the state.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Witt Associates Vice President Charles Fisher announced the report's findings Friday morning. Malloy has been critical of CL&P's response, especially for missing self-imposed deadlines to restore power.

"Because of that poor preparation," Malloy said, "it's not surprising that they didn't, or that they couldn't, respond with enough boots on the ground when the worst case scenario was compounded by a factor of eight."

The governor added, "We have a long winter ahead of us, and this report is the first step towards making sure we are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us."

The Witt report, however, also noted CL&P had successes during its response including its internal prediction that power would be fully restored by Wednesday, Nov. 9, the fact that no workers were killed or seriously injured while repairing damage and the quickness in which CL&P's customer service representatives answered phone lines.

But Witt also said CL&P unnecessarily increased people's frustration by announcing publicly that power would be restored to 99 percent of all customers by Sunday, Nov. 6, without vetting that estimate internally.

Frustration and criticism of CL&P after the snowstorm led the company's president, Jeffrey Butler, to resign Nov. 17.

The Witt report focused primarily on CL&P but also looked at the response by The United Illuminating Co., which serves 325,000 homes and businesses in the Bridgeport and New Haven areas. But UI's territory wasn't hit nearly as hard as CL&P's. About 52,000 UI customers lost power after the snowstorm, and the company restored all of its service by Nov. 2.


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