LEWISBORO, N.Y. – When the next big storm hits and Lewisboro suffers from widespread power outages, town officials need to find a better way to communicate with residents, and they should hold NYSEG more accountable for how the utility handles the crisis.
That was some of the feedback town officials heard Wednesday night when the Office of Emergency Management held an open forum to discuss what the town did well and what it did poorly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Adam Ochs, the town’s director of emergency management, gave a presentation outlining what officials did prior to Sandy’s arrival and what they did after the storm passed through.
“We want to find out from the public if we met their expectations and what we can do better the next time,” Ochs said.
Many in the audience voiced complaints about New York State Electric & Gas, including the utility’s response time and what some said were vague power restoration estimates.
Town Supervisor Peter Parsons said he and several other town supervisors are meeting with NYSEG officials this week in hopes of getting the company to be more proactive when dealing with future emergencies.
“The goal is to get inside NYSEG’s head and have them make safety the No. 1 priority,” he said. “The first thing we need to do is get the roads open so power restoration can begin, but our Highway Department was just sitting around waiting for [NYSEG].”
Ochs said one of the challenges NYSEG faced was that New York City was commandeering resources that originally had been allocated to other areas.
“[The city] trumps other areas because it’s considered a financial center and has to get back online,” he said.
Still, some in the audience felt NYSEG dropped the ball.
“I was without power for eight days, so I don’t think NYSEG’s plan was all that great,” said Greg Nikel. “Their restoration estimate for me was eight to 14 days. That’s a pretty big window and I think it’s a cop-out. They need to keep people better appraised.”
Many in the audience said cellphone restoration times need to be improved, saying they went without cellphone and Internet service for days after electrical power was restored.
Parsons said that to partially remedy the communications issue, the town is considering establishing a low-frequency FM radio station that would broadcast looped messages with emergency information. He said he also wants to get the library connected to the Town House generator so it can maintain its WiFi connections and people could access the Internet there.
One resident, Robin Harris, suggested the town create its own Facebook page where emergency information could be disseminated.
“It’s on people’s phones and it’s user-friendly and most people go there instinctively,” she said.
As town officials continued to listen to a litany of complaints about the response to the storm, Harris noted that in such disaster scenarios, there is only so much that can be done.
“We are all creatures of comfort, so when things like this happen we have to buck up,” she said. “The storm did a tremendous amount of damage. We should try to do better, but we have to keep an eye on our expectations of what the town can do. I was as aggravated as the next person, but we had a home to go to – a lot of people didn’t. We are spoiled and need to keep things in perspective. In the end, it wasn’t so horrible, and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Her remarks were met with loud applause.