Call it “CSI: Utilities.”
Lawmakers across the state are of how CL&P handled its communications .
“It’s time to do the autopsy,” said state Rep. John Shaban a Republican representing Easton, Redding and Weston in the 135th House District. “I think there was a lot of miscommunication.”
In the end most state legislators agree that it’s about “expectation management.” And so people can expect public hearings into what happened with CL&P response after Tropical Storm Irene, not just from getting power up but in its communication strategy. Lawmakers won’t get any argument from CL&P. Indeed CL&P President and CEO Jeff Butler has said he welcomes an investigation.
“We understand that, especially in today's world, being without power is frustrating, and our local officials and customers not having timely access to the information increases that frustration,” Butler said in a statement.
Mitch Gross, a spokesman for CL&P, said well before the storm hit customers were told that power could be out for a week or more in some areas. However, he said, “the utility looks forward to actively participating in the upcoming hearing. We will have a constructive discussion with all parties. Everybody wants the same thing.”
, a Republican representing Norwalk and Wilton in the 143rd Senate District, and state Sen. Toni Boucher—a Republican representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the 26th Senate District, .
Even before power was restored the two co-signed a letter to Butler. Communication was one of many topics addressed.
“Communication with CL&P customers has been irregular, inconsistent, inaccurate, and in many cases nonexistent, making the situation far more distressing for residents than it would otherwise have been,” according to the letter. “The overall lack of information on work plans and status reports has made people feel very anxious and -- in the case of many older, ill, or disabled individuals – desperate. It is unacceptable that people already experiencing physical distress should be left in a communication vacuum.”
If they knew less populated towns were to be last then say so at the forefront. Then people are equipped with knowledge and can plan. It’s the uncertainty that’s difficult.
In Wilton, Tim and Grace Donovan, didn’t get power for at least four days. Their story illustrates the frustration people had with CL&P regarding not so much power restoration as the power to communicate.
In one message to CL&P Tim Donovan explained how his whole street, Signal Hill, had power save for his house.
“They TOOK DOWN the TRANSFORMER about 4 days ago when they fixed the pole wires and HAVE NOT REPLACED IT. Feel like we have been forgotten because the rest of the houses on street have power. Have called and the reps have no information other than what I've been telling them. Please respond!!!,” Donovan posted on Facebook.
In CL&P’s response they told Donovan he was right to report his situation to customer service and that he should check the connection to his meter.
“If you have already checked this, then be assured we are aware of your situation and will respond as soon as we can,” according to CL&P’s posted response.
The Donovans got power eight days after the storm. And while this is a Wilton story, it will likely resonate with many across the state. And that’s why hearings are needed, said several legislators.
Lavielle said many of her constituents felt like the Donovans: hostage to the situation, in large part because they lacked current and accurate information.
“People weren’t demanding power, they just wanted to know the procedure, the work plan,” she said.
For example, at one point it was said that up to 100 crews were coming from Canada. But they had to turn back to help Vermont. Most residents were not aware of that situation, she said.
“It’s perception versus reality,” Lavielle said. “It’s a client service organization at the end of the day. Clients, or customers, expect some consideration regarding how they feel. They want some recognition that they can think.”
State Rep. John Frey, a Republican representing Ridgefield in the 111th House District, agreed.
“They set unreasonable expectations going into the storm that they were very well prepared,” Frey said. “When the storm was coming they said they had 900 crews between in-state and those called from other states. So people felt a lot of confidence.”
But then it turned out there were about six crews in Ridgefield, a town of 25,000 people. There was no pharmacy, no gas station and no traffic lights: “It just went on,” Frey said.