Pepco moves to thwart future Isabels

Utility adopts series of recommendations to deal with major storms

January 14, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

In the wake of widespread power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isabel, Pepco Holdings Inc. said yesterday that it would adopt emergency management procedures more in line with the way federal and local agencies respond to community-wide disasters.

An analysis of Pepco's storm response by James Lee Witt Associates calls for more emergency drills, a new set of power restoration priorities, improved customer service and better coordination with public and emergency management officials. Pepco paid Witt Associates $2 million for the study.

"We typically look at things as an electric utility has in the past - that's the standard we'd held ourselves to, but in an event like Isabel and other major disasters that cause such widespread outages, we have to look at it as a community event," said Thomas S. Shaw, executive vice president of Pepco Holdings.

Shaw said Pepco intends to act on all of the report's 150 separate recommendations, though it could take up to five years to make all of the changes. The company hopes to put most of the recommendations in place over the next 18 months. The cost has yet to be determined.

Among the steps being undertaken is an emergency drill with other agencies before summer and, by June, a system to give customers more accurate restoration estimates and information on crew locations.

"It is absolutely critical to get information out to let people know what [the utility] is doing and where they're working," said Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Isabel, one of the worst storms to hit the state in at least 50 years, left more than a million Marylanders without electricity, some for more than a week.

Pepco's utilities, Potomac Electric Power Co., which serves Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and Conectiv Power Delivery, with customers on the Eastern Shore and in Cecil and Harford counties, had 543,000 outages.

In response to the report, Pepco has created a position of vice president for emergency preparedness and named Michael W. Maxwell, an engineer, to coordinate emergency planning with government agencies, public works departments and other agencies.

Pepco said it will improve its response to downed wires through more extensive inspection, reporting and dispatch and hopes eventually to install technology that could detect and restore downed wires remotely.

In response to Pepco's own internal review, the company is already taking steps to improve preparedness. These include upgrading its computer software systems to handle higher volumes of outages, working with community associations to trim or remove trees threatening power lines, creating a community outreach program and putting in place new technology to improve reliability.

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