ComEd, government leaders unveil plan to better manage outages

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ComEd crew lineman Brook Bott works high on a electric pole to restore power in Hillside on July 13, 2011. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times

To better deal with power outages, ComEd and municipal leaders announced plans Wednesday to establish 17 regional joint operating centers or temporary office locations that will be set up within hours of major service disruptions.

At the centers, pre-selected staff will collaborate with the utility and municipal emergency response staff to restore power to critical sites and help coordinate priority restoration efforts at public health and safety facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes and police and fire stations, the utility said.

The centers will be triggered once 20 percent of customers are without power for more than three hours, said ComEd President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Pramaggiore.

They will be set up in areas experiencing the system emergency and are designed to “identify and act upon early on in a storm or emergency situation the needs and priorities of the communities we are serving, to provide a more regular flow of information to the communities and from our communities into ComEd during these events and to have a consistent presence in the community that allows us a better line of sight during these severe events,” she said.

ComEd came under fire from local government leaders and community residents in the wake of a record 2.4 million outages last summer, some lasting several days, as the utility’s service territory experienced the most big storms in a decade. The previous record of outages was 1.4 million in 2007.

The new centers, to be set up at municipal locations, will be staffed 24 hours a day by a ComEd restoration specialist and representatives from area municipalities until service to priority facilities is completely restored, ComEd said. The utility is working with regional government councils and approximately 400 municipalities in its service territory in establishing the centers.

Wilmette Village President Christopher Canning, who also is president of the Northwest Municipal Conference – a government council made up of 42 communities in the north and northwest suburbs – was among the utility’s critics following power outages that occurred during storms last June and July.

After those storms “it was clear to municipal leaders that we needed a better system to work with ComEd to ensure the timely restoration of critical facilities during a crisis situation,” Canning said Wednesday. “We see the JOC process as adding great value to the municipal emergency response and the power restoration process. … For the first time municipal representatives will be plugged directly into the ComEd restoration process.”

Municipalities will have a streamlined system for communication and will be able to work side by side with ComEd representatives as power is being restored, he added.

Pramaggiore said ComEd also has made other improvements, including:

*A smart phone app to report service interruptions to be released next month for Android and Apple users

*A $1 million regional mobile command center that can be deployed to the worst-hit areas in a storm

*A text messaging system to report outages and receive updates

*1,000 new lines into its call centers

*An outage map to be launched on its website at the end of this month

ComEd last year ranked 112th out of 124 utility companies nationwide in a residential customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power and Associates. For the past three years, it has ranked next to the bottom against large Midwestern utilities. A big key to the ratings was the utility’s communications about outages and when the power would be restored.

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