Power Companies Assess Hurricane Response; Call Efforts to Restore Energy 'Timely and Efficient'

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The power companies that restored electricity to 1.4 million area customers after Hurricane Isabel described their performance as "appropriate" and "timely and efficient" in reports filed yesterday with D.C. and Maryland officials.

"Baltimore Gas & Electric made significant preparations in advance and in anticipation of Hurricane Isabel's arrival ... that greatly improved BG&E's ability to restore customer service in a timely and efficient manner," company officials said in a 40-page report to the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Maryland and the District had set yesterday as the deadline for the reports.

Company officials also said they fulfilled a promise made shortly after the storm hit Sept. 18 that they would restore power within eight days to the roughly 650,000 people who lost power and had no significant flood damage.

A similar, 69-page report filed by Potomac Electric Power Co. with the D.C. Public Service Commission states the company did an adequate job restoring power to roughly 545,000 customers, including 374,000 in the District, though the hurricane was the worst weather event in company history. The company said 76 percent of its customers were without power.

"The restoration performance for Hurricane Isabel is nearly the same as in previous storms, though the number of customers out of service was almost twice in any other storm," company officials said in the report's executive summary.

However, company officials acknowledged "there are still lessons to be learned" and said they could not submit a definitive report three weeks after such a major outage.

Pepco executives also said the report shows the company had "appropriate operational standards and procedures ... that are within or better than the industry means."

However, they said the company's outage-management system "did not support restoration as intended" and that software problems were being fixed.

They also said that "some customers were dissatisfied with the length of outages."

Indeed, some around the metropolitan area were furious after spending more than a week without electricity.

The outages forced some residents to live by candlelight or spend hundreds of dollars on generators, if they could find one. Those who lived without power also lived without showers and home-cooked meals. Many residents had to throw away refrigerators' and freezers' worth of food.

They also became frustrated because downed power lines blocked sidewalks and roads more than a week after the storm.

Many said their biggest complaint was not knowing when power would be restored.

"My biggest beef is that nobody will tell me anything," Southeast resident Margaret Dixon said five days after the storm. "We call Pepco and just hear a recording."

Both companies acknowledged that a series of storms that swept through the region just weeks before Isabel caused significant damage and strained services but offered lessons about restoring power after high-wind events.

The companies also said that finding power-restoration crews in the mid-Atlantic was impossible, forcing them to seek assistance from outside the region. BGE used roughly 33 outside agencies, including ones from as far away as Arizona, Colorado and Canada. …