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County supervisors slam Edison for response to power outage

December 6, 2011 |  1:33 pm

Los Angeles County supervisors slammed Southern California Edison for its response to last week's windstorm disaster, including what they said was a lack of communication with the 419,000 San Gabriel Valley area customers who lost power.

Even on Tuesday, about 9,000 Edison customers were still without electricity, five days after wind gusts approaching 100 mph crippled suburbs across the region, snapping power lines and pushing trees into homes.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was particularly critical that Edison did not communicate directly with customers who had no access to phones, radio, television or Internet because of the extended power outage. Edison spokeswoman Veronica Gutierrez said the electricity company was relying on the media to communicate with their customers.

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But, Antonovich said, "You really need direct contact with those neighbors. … The media only works if you have electricity. They need to turn on the television. So that's stupid."

Even if people had cellphone service initially, "after a period of time, those batteries ran out."

"When were you able to dispense information to the public [about] when the power would come back on?" Antonovich said.

He was also dismayed to hear from a resident who remained without power Tuesday, and another who said the utility didn't know that her power was out because she did not have a "smart" electrical meter. For those homes, Edison relies on phone calls and patrols to determine what areas are without power, Gutierrez said.

Antonovich questioned how customers would have known to call. And those who did call in dealt with slow operators, Antonovich said. In addition, he said, Edison's website failed to provide accurate updated information.

"You're not responding effectively," Antonovich said. "You failed during the disaster. How do you evaluate how we can do a better job? Or is it just coffee and doughnuts?"

Gutierrez said the disaster was the worst encountered by Edison in 30 years. There were some homes that the company couldn't physically get to because of debris, he said.

Antonovich wasn't sympathetic. "Arcadia is not that difficult to get to. … We're not talking about the wilderness. … It's like this is the first disaster you've ever had."

The supervisor said Edison was leading its customers and shareholders to conclude, "This is a company that doesn't plan ahead. … You can talk to anyone on the street, and they'll say, 'Is this a Third World [country], or is this Southern California?' "

Supervisor Don Knabe said Edison should work more closely with county officials in future disasters. Knabe suggested asking local police and sheriff's deputies to drive around affected neighborhoods and give residents updates by loudspeaker.

"You just left a lot of folks hanging out there in that they didn't know what was going on," Knabe said, a situation that could've been alleviated with better communication with public officials. Instead, "now you've got a public relations nightmare."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said there was no question that the disaster was an "overwhelming set of circumstances," but told the Edison official that "now you are aware of the county's capacity. … We can do a more comprehensive service" during future emergencies.

The county's chief executive, William T Fujioka, urged residents to learn from the disaster and stock up on batteries, flashlights and battery-operated radios to stay in contact during disasters.

People who spot damage in unincorporated areas of the county, such as Altadena, East San Gabriel, La Crescenta and East Pasadena, can report it by calling a county hotline at 211 or (800) 980-4990. Those who live in incorporated cities should contact their own city governments to report damage.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

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