Report: SCE could have reduced windstorm blackout

ROBERT JABLON

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California Edison could have shaved a day or more off the time it took to restore power after last fall's ferocious windstorm that left some 440,000 customers in the dark, reports released Wednesday concluded.

The giant utility never expected to deal with the hurricane-force blow of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, according to an internal Edison report and another report the utility commissioned from Davies Consulting.

Edison was "slow to grasp the magnitude of damage" from such a unique storm and so failed to meet its typical restoration target of 72 hours, according to SCE's internal report.

The report also said some Edison procedures, such as those designed to protect crews from electrocution from downed power lines, were implemented in a way that caused repair delays.

In addition, inaccurate predictions of restoration times and poor communications led to public frustration, it said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he was pleased that the utility had released reports identifying problems.

"The November windstorm was an unplanned drill for a more serious natural disaster in the future, and we can learn from the problems we encountered," he said in a statement. "There are many improvements to make, and all utilities can take the lessons of the windstorm response to heart by implementing the lessons learned."

The wind knocked down about 250 power poles, 60,000 feet of wire and 100 transformers. Most of the damage was in the San Gabriel Valley, a densely populated suburban area east of downtown Los Angeles that stretches from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Much of that area gets its power from Edison, which serves nearly 14 million customers over 50,000 square miles of central and Southern California.

The seven-and-a-half days it took to get electricity flowing after the windstorm could have been cut by a day or even two through policy changes that include better planning and damage assessment, according to the Davies report, which made 70 recommendations.

Although many customers had electricity restored within 24 hours, some had to wait much longer. Edison and municipal utilities came under harsh criticism by some people and tempers flared. In one case, a 72-year-old man was arrested after allegedly making death threats against Pasadena city workers over restoration of his electricity.

In February the California Public Utilities Commission, which has the power to fine Edison for errors, issued a preliminary report that said the utilities prolonged outages by failing to ask other utilities for help in restoring power. However, a final version of the report has not been released.

The Davies report gave Edison some high marks for restoring power. It concluded that the 1,500 workers deployed were sufficient and said the percentage of customers left without power at the peak of the disaster was lower than for 29 other incidents that caused similar damage.

Among other things, the report recommended that SCE create an emergency management group that could plan for such a large and complex disaster; improve planning and weather forecasting so that repairs can be made to hard-hit areas more quickly; make sure the computer system for handling outages is up to date, and develop a way to give customers a time estimate for restoring their power.

The report indicates the importance of understanding the magnitude of such disasters and for having good ways of communicating with the public and local agencies, said Stu Hemphill, Edison's senior vice president for power delivery.

"We've not had a storm of this magnitude and severity before," he said. "I think we'll be much better prepared next time."

Edison has been making changes to improve its storm response in the future but some of the recommendations from the Davies report may take years to implement, the utility said. Hemphill declined to put a price tag on the changes.