Isaias a ‘management failure’: LIPA CEO

Originally published in The Island Now on January 13, 2021.

PSEG Long Island’s botched handling of Tropical Storm Isaias in August was due to management failures, the Long Island Power Authority’s CEO said at an online forum Tuesday held as part of an investigation into the response.

LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone was among the first to speak and said the utility’s failures in the storm were those of management.

“The failures were not I.T. or vendor failures, they weren’t Verizon failures, they were management failures,” Falcone said. “Every failure that occurred during this storm could have been prevented by competent management. I want to share with you an internal email from a PSEG employee from mid-July, just three weeks before the storm. The employee stated to his boss that the outage management system, the key system that failed during the storm, was quote, ‘not even managing on a day to day basis, and we are definitely not prepared for a weather event.’ That was three weeks before the storm.”

Rory Llancman, statewide special counsel for ratepayer protection, presided over the meeting, where over 30 speakers made comments.

“We seek comments on the following questions,” Llancman said at the forum’s start. “How were you affected by the outages including, but not limited to concrete and measurable economic and material impact and physical, emotional, and social impacts? Did you receive timely, accurate, and adequate information from your utility company about what was happening before, during, and after the service outages? Did you attempt to contact your utility for information or assistance immediately before, during, or after the outages? And did you get the response that you were requesting?”

The comments made were part of the official record and may be used by the special counsel as part of direct testimony in an investigation into statewide utilities’ preparations for and response to the August storm and its resulting power failures.

PSEG estimates that 420,000 of its customers across the island lost power during or following the storm, with an estimated 15,528 customers having to wait more than a week for their service to return.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo later opened an investigation into the utilities’ responses, and PSEG faced criticism from the Nassau County Legislature, the Town of North Hempstead and the Town of Hempstead.

Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke, also present on the call, said that 70 to 80 percent of his city’s population had lost power, though he praised the abilities of the employees on the ground.

“There were a lot of complaints that were coming from the residents, not just because they couldn’t get through to PSEG, but the information that they were receiving was incorrect,” Tenke said.

“They were being told that the power was back on in their houses when they were standing in them, and saying that they were there and there was no power. It was also very difficult to get certain things, they said that certain things would be back on this date. And yet it wasn’t until several days later, before they were able to restore power in these areas. Now we have, you know, a lot of trees down. And we were like a lot of the surrounding communities that suffered a lot of damage from the storm.”

Also present on the call was state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), who said that many constituents called her office when they were unable to reach the utility, turning her office “into a de facto call center for PSEG.”

“We helped 731 individuals get their lights turned back on after they were unable to reach anyone at PSG Long Island, or receive correct information about service restoration,” Kaplan said. “Thirty-three of these individuals were put at risk of losing their lives due to a medical emergency, or loss of power to life-sustaining medical equipment. One hundred twenty of those individuals at a serious medical condition or were frail elderly, meaning that their health and their lives were at risk.

“These numbers don’t even begin to convey the full impact of the nightmare created by PSG Long Island’s failure and staggering costs … to have this happen on top of the global pandemic, that already put families on the brink of unimaginable stress is inexcusable, and PSEG Long Island needs to be held accountable.”