By Jeff Gallatin
A trio of Westshore mayors is meeting with Illuminating Co. executives today seeking long-term answers on how to better deal with residents’ problems during a crisis.
Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland, Fairview Park Mayor Eileen Patton and Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst set the meeting up last week in the aftermath of the three western Cuyahoga County suburbs being hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. All three suburbs had thousands of residents without power for several days, and services and businesses in their communities disrupted or shut down as well.
Sutherland and the Bay Village City Council listened at the Nov. 5 council meeting to nearly two hours worth of residents’ complaints about what they perceived as a lack of information and response to their needs during the severe weather and resulting power outage. Sutherland said Thursday the mayors understand the Illuminating Co. and other utilities were hard-pressed during the severe weather.
“Once help and crews got into Bay Village, it was outstanding,” she said. “We had crews from different areas, but they knew what they were doing and got things done quickly and efficiently. But we’re looking for answers in other areas such as planning, timing and getting information out to residents.”
Sutherland said a common concern in her city stemmed from when the crews arrived.
“In many instances, they really didn’t get going until Friday,” she said. “By then, many people had been without power several days, and were looking for answers which we couldn’t give to them about what was going on. I certainly understand why so many of our residents are upset. We appreciate the people expressing their concerns and views to us, particularly those who expressed them in a professional and respectful manner.”
Sutherland said with the advance information available about the potential for damage and destruction by Hurricane Sandy, perhaps it could have been handled differently.
“We don’t have a problem with some of the area crews being sent to the east to deal with the problems there,” she said. “What we have concerns about is the preparation and planning aspects. Such as when the crews got into our city, like when many of them really didn’t get here until Friday and how many were available to work on problems. It appeared that they not have estimated properly when they needed to get people here, as well as making sure there were enough people to handle the problems.”
Sutherland said she also would like to find better ways of getting information from the utilities and in turn to be able to pass it on to residents and businesses.
“We had many instances of people seeking information from us which we didn’t have and weren’t able to get from the utilities,” she said. “We’d like find ways of bettering that, so we can get that needed information to residents.”
Sutherland acknowleged additional frustration when the east end of the city had another power outage of a little more than an hour Thursday morning.
“I thought, What next? and then let the Illuminating Co. president know that our residents are at their wits’ end with these right now,” she said.
Bobst said the storm gave different governmental bodies, utilities and other organizations the opportunity to work together, but said there can be improvements.
“We got a lot of support from many people,” she said. “In addition to the utility crews, the (Cuyahoga) county had work crews in here helping us. ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) called us, and we got support from many others,” she said.
Bobst said one area she felt could use work is in call-outs for crews and the communication.
“There’s got to be a different model for working in cities that we can look at implementing or utilizing during a bad situation,” she said.
Bobst cited examples such as crews getting calls to go to another site when they had not completed work in one area, or getting called to go to another area that already had power restored.
“We need to work together to find the best ways to do these things and have some plans if something else like this comes along,” she said. “It’s something where if we see something coming that has the potential to be like this, we can tell people, this is what to expect.”
Mark Durbin, a spokesman for the Illuminating Co., said the utility is happy to meet with the mayors.
“Anytime they want to do something like that, we’re happy to meet with them and discuss issues with them,” he said. “With the timing, I’m sure there’s going to be discussion about the storm and how things were handled.”
Durbin said the company is aware of the concerns but said the utility has to act responsibly.
“We understand that people want information and to know what’s going on, but before we say some things or act on them we want to make sure we have the right information and that we’re taking the proper action. We don’t want to be giving out the wrong information or causing problems with bad information or a bad action.”
He noted, for example, crews can’t go up in equipment in dangerously high winds or storms.
Durbin also noted that the utility is open to finding better ways of doing things.
“Perhaps there are things that we could do differently and perhaps there are things that they could do differently as well to aid us,” he said.