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Restoring power

It’s almost unfathomable that there are places in New York City and its adjacent region that are still without electrical power two weeks after the disaster created by Hurricane Sandy.

Yet, from Staten Island to parts of Long Island and parts of New Jersey, residents find themselves waiting in the cold and dark.

Sandy knocked out electrical service to 8.5 million customers in 21 states. Some of those customers live in places that remain flooded and therefore restoring power is just not possible until the water is gone and vast repairs are made.

But there are many more areas where the issue wasn’t so much water as it was downed power lines or shorted-out transformers or other damage to the infrastructure. And the local utility in charge, be it the Long Island Power Authority (managed by National Grid), Consolidated Edison or Jersey Central Power and Light seem to have been overwhelmed and unprepared to tackle such a catastrophe.

“People do not like to hear this, but the severity of damage to our system was not like anything we’ve seen before,” said JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said in a news report. “For our customers this is the third time in (recent years) they’ve experienced something like this ... certainly we understand that frustrates them.”

Nor is the issue with the men and women on the ground, clearing trees, restoring lines or doing the physical labor to restore electrical service to individuals and neighborhoods. They have worked long, hard days since the storm.

The issue here is with the power companies, where once again it seems they weren’t up to the task.

Here in Massachusetts, residents have witnessed the same kind of issues, whether it was Tropical Storm Irene, last year’s end of October snowstorm or some of the ice storms that have downed trees and power lines in central Massachusetts with the companies that provide electrical service. This past trouble of restoring power is what prompted Gov. Deval Patrick to warn the utilities that they “better be” ready as Sandy made its way toward the Northeast.

This time, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo has formed a special commission to investigate the state utilities’ response and handling of Sandy.

What has to happen is that the utilities and the states they serve must invest in upgrades to the infrastructure and equipment to provide better analysis of the issues and communication to the public; in planning for the such the most extreme events that includes deployment of utility workers from outside the impact zone and use of the National Guard to help clear storm damage or man pumps.

Two weeks and counting to restore electrical power to homes that are habitable is unacceptable and should not be happening.

We can and must do better.

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