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December 01. 2012 10:59PM

PSNH offers its own report card on restoring power after Superstorm Sandy

A week after the state Public Utilities Commission issued a report criticizing Public Service of New Hampshire for its efforts to restore power after the "Snowtober" storm of 2011, PSNH issued a 13-page analysis of its efforts to restore power after last month's Hurricane Sandy.

The utility's self-assessment, issued Thursday, reported that all Sandy-related power outages were restored by Nov. 1, only three days after the storm first hit on Oct. 29 - four days faster than full restoration after the Oct. 29, 2011, snowstorm, in which all outages were not restored until Nov. 5.

"They key to success was advance preparation, as PSNH and Northeast Utilities began rolling out preliminary restoration strategies 72 hours before the storm began," the report states.

The company was criticized by the PUC for not doing enough to line up outside help before the October 2011 storm, not communicating enough with affected communities and not making effective use of social media. PSNH claims to have done a better job in all three areas with regard to Sandy.

The report said PSNH solicited and secured out-of-region mutual aid well ahead of the storm, placed PSNH contract crews on storm alert, rolled out a more expansive community relations program and made more use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to alert customers.

By Thursday morning, Oct. 25, four days in advance of the storm, PSNH had a restoration plan in place and tree crews in position, the report said.

PSNH had to restore power to 237,000 customers after Snowtober, compared to 137,000 after Sandy. The largest outage in state history remains the December 2008 ice storm that knocked out power to 322,000 PSNH customers.

"This is the fifth significant storm report we've put out," said PSNH spokesman Martin Murray, "with our regulators in mind, but with our public in mind as well, to basically tell the story of what happened and what the response was."

The five worst power outages in PSNH history have occurred since 2008, and the utility has had to adapt to the notion that this type of weather occurrence, once rare, may become more frequent, Murray said.

"Overall, Hurricane Sandy delivered more damage to our system than Irene did a year ago, but this restoration was completed in less time," said Gary Long, PSNH president.

The report cites social media as the fastest growing means for PSNH to reach its customers during major power outages. In the days preceding Sandy's arrival until the final days customers were restored, PSNH Twitter followers increased by 13 percent to more than 13,200, nearly double the number of followers during Irene a year ago. The PSNH Facebook page gained nearly 1,100 new fans and sharing soared to 5,061, the report states.

The report also highlights more aggressive, year-round tree trimming efforts, claiming that "Vegetation management conducted by PSNH and its contractors during 2012 helped substantially reduce tree-related outages once Hurricane Sandy hit."

Murray said the utility has had to adapt to the fact that large storms seem to be coming with increasing frequency at a time when people rely on electricity more than ever for public safety and public communications.

"There is little public patience for any interruption, however small," he said. "The pressure is really on for utilities, municipalities and the state to work together to do everything we possibly can to keep our systems as reliable as we possibly can."

The Public Utilities Commission has not indicated whether it will conduct its own assessment of utility performance in the wake of Sandy as it did for the Snowtober outages. PUC officials were unavailable for comment on Friday.

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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