As previously committed, I offer the following update to efforts regarding the Department of Public Utilities investigation specific to National Grid's October storm response.
Today, Selectman Priscilla Gimas and I, submitted a letter to representatives of the Department of Public Utilities representing our individual official analysis of National Grid's management of of its emergency response plan. This letter was based upon our own individual experiences and interactions during the power outage, as well as information received from various members of the Town's Incident Management Team and was conveyed in support of our efforts to address and rectify the shortcomings experienced as a result of failures associated with National Grid's executive management staff. The letter was separately addressed and sent to Mark D. Marini, Secretary - Department of Public Utilities, Ann G. Berwick, Chair - Department of Public Utilities and Jennifer M. Murphy, Hearing Officer - Department of Public Utilities, all of whom will play a role in the "adjudicatory phase" of the hearings. To be clear, the letter does not reflect any official collective position of the Board of Selectmen, but rather the individual official position of the two members signing it. The letter reads as follows:
On behalf of the Town of Sturbridge and its residents, the following official statement is offered to the Department of Public Utilities by Thomas R. Creamer (Chairman of the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen) and Selectman Priscilla C Gimas. We write to convey our deep sense of frustration and dissatisfaction with National Grid’s storm response management in the aftermath of the October Nor’easter. It is important to emphasize that the comments offered in this testimony are solely directed at National Grid’s executive management team and not the hardworking men and women in the field who labored significantly and diligently on behalf of those without power.
In reviewing the implementation of the emergency response plan initiated by National Grid, it is clear that their efforts were disorganized, disjointed, and lacking a level of credible coordination with local officials. Despite having a liaison from National Grid assigned to our Incident Management Center, there was a distinct failure on the part of National Grid’s executive management staff to properly prioritize their restoration efforts in a manner consistent with the Town’s emergency response protocols. As Town crews were clearing areas of concern prior to the arrival of National Grid field teams - in an effort to assure access for them - conflicting dispatch orders were generated via National Grid’s management team directing crews to areas inconsistent with local emergency response efforts. This coordination failure on the part of National Grid’s management team resulted in needlessly extended delays, as well as inconsistent and disjointed power restoration efforts that necessitated a speculative approach on the part of our Incident Management Team in its attempts to establish an organizational plan designed to address anticipated needs or long-term delays. Illustrating this rather starkly was the decision-making process as it related to the cancellation of schools.
With no credible information coming from National Grid or its information centers, our community was forced into a day-to-day decision-matrix in terms of school closings, which placed parents and children in an untenable situation, preventing them from making plans or arrangements to exit the area for more appropriate accommodations. So too, vulnerable members of our community, young and old, immunosuppressed or ill, were forced daily, and in some cased hourly, to evaluate their conditions and situation due to the absence of time-critical and credible information. Additionally, updates provided by our liaison as well as those received during joint conference calls, offered little in terms of reliable or useful information, thereby further inhibiting the release of definitive and dependable information to our residents. Equally, information received by residents via phone calls to National Grid customer service centers proved to be anything but trustworthy. These communications failures created unnecessary emotional stress and physical challenges for the entire community.
In addition, we contend that a significant lack of vegetation management undertaken by National Grid as well as the dependence upon outdated and poorly maintained infrastructure were, and will continue to be significant contributing factors in terms of the magnitude and duration of the October outage, as well as those one might experience in the near future. Despite National Grid’s contention to the contrary, we challenge their testimony provided during the public hearings held in Brookfield that they have not reduced their vegetation management program, nor would such have had any impact upon the outcome. To the contrary, we believe there has been a general lack of vegetation management in our community and that National Grid’s failure to properly address such resulted in a greater loss of community-wide power. Equally, National Grid’s call for residents with power to leave an outside light on so that they could determine who was still without power demonstrates an archaic approach in an age of abundantly sophisticated technology. In recognition of such, we formerly request the DPU to order the release of National Grid’s records in terms of all vegetation management efforts within the town of Sturbridge, as well as infrastructure preventative maintenance and upgrades specific to same within the next 60 days.
Additionally we call upon DPU to conduct an extensive review of National Grid’s Emergency Response Plan and to include review of same by emergency managers throughout the state to ensure that said plans are compatible with and complimentary to local emergency response plans, procedures, and priorities. Recognizing the significant financial burden the extended power outage had for residents in terms of lost perishable foods, added outside meal costs, hotel/motel stays, loss time at work, etc., we encourage DPU to levy appropriate and worthwhile fines upon National Grid and to ensure that said costs are not passed to the ratepayers.
Finally, we call upon DPU to support legislation that would reduce the impediments to the establishment of more municipally owned and operated power entities. It is our hope that the levying of fines and greater competition by way of municipal power companies are the surest way of establishing a more competitive and proactive customer service approach by National Grid.
Thomas R. Creamer, Chairman
Priscilla C. Gimas, Selectman
In addition to the path available to us via the Public Hearings, a meeting is forthcoming after the holidays with members of National Grid's executive management staff and some representatives from our community to better identify the challenges faced, develop cooperative efforts to address, and to foster a coordinated approach to any future events.