By Sue Botos
Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst described the Nov. 14 meeting with FirstEnergy’s John Skory as being “very productive” and said that she, along with Fairview Park Mayor Eileen Patton and Bay Village Mayor Deborah Sutherland, reached conclusions that could improve response to power outages due to severe storms.
The three mayors called the meeting in the aftermath of “Superstorm Sandy,” which at one point left more than 300,440 area residents without power, some for as long as a week. The outages also crippled or shut down some area businesses.
“We want crews deployed that don’t leave here until they are finished,” commented Bobst at the Nov. 13 City Council committee session. At an earlier meeting on Nov. 5, the first after the storm hit, Bobst said restoring power is not a simple procedure, especially when it involves a large downed tree like the one on Avalon Drive, which hit a utility pole, pulling down six lines.
She explained that it took many specialized crews, including assessment, line and forestry teams, to seat a new pole and install new equipment. Poles in backyards presented additional problems due to lack of accessibility. Bobst added that when a crew is sent, good care, such as the warm drinks and lunches provided by Joe’s Deli, gave incentive to workers to stay on task.
The mayor took such an active role in the after-storm work that City Council presented her with her own tool belt at the meeting.
Bobst said that, in the wake of the FirstEnergy meeting, city administrators are putting together a standardized “e-update,” which can be sent to subscribers when a severe storm is predicted. The information included will outline preparation procedures, and what to do in case of an emergency.
“We want to make sure that information is out there,” said Bobst.
“The top priority is to get the roads open,” continued Bobst, who said that mobilization of the Ohio National Guard was also discussed as an option for road clearing and debris removal.
“We need to improve the internal and external communication,” Bobst said. “What they (FirstEnergy) gave us and what was on their website were two different things.” She said that standardized maps, showing which areas were powered by certain transformers, were mentioned as a goal, as well as regularly scheduled conference calls between the power company and city officials.
A regular tree trimming program was also seen as a necessity, utilizing city crews. “Residents don’t want CEI trimming their trees,” said Bobst, referring to the often unflattering results.
Safety-service director Jim Linden has asked that residents be aware of large trees near power lines, and to have them removed when they become unstable.
At the Nov. 19 council meeting, Bobst also spoke to complaints about the number of crews assigned to the area or sent to help on the East Coast. She said of the 290 CEI linemen regularly in the area, 50 were sent east. On Oct. 29, when the storm hit, crews were called up from as far away as Oklahoma, but could not get to work because of the still-high winds.
“They still couldn’t do a significant amount of work, but by Tuesday (Oct. 30) and into Wednesday (Oct. 31), 800 linemen were in the area,” Bobst said. She added that according to information provided by Skory, over $400,000 was spent on overtime by FirstEnergy. He estimated that over $13 million could be the total spent on area storm repairs.
A meeting of the Cuyahoga County Safety Committee, chaired by Ward 1 County Councilman David Greenspan, will be scheduled, according to Bobst, for discussion of storm management and the best utilization of resources during an emergency. Although there were communication issues, Bobst stated, “Every resource was put into action and power was restored in a devastating situation, and the city (was) better off than many other surrounding communities.”