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Pile-On Pepco

Residents, politicians question utility’s response during outages.

Allen Cohen had to wait almost a full week before getting power back after a hurricane blew through the region, and his lights came on days before some other County residents.

“Pepco has no contingency plans, no priorities,” Cohen said.

One thing which upset him greatly was the system which Pepco was using in their efforts to restore power. While most of his neighbors had power, his home was still dark. “When you go into a neighborhood, finish the neighborhood,” he said.

Cohen thinks generally, that Pepco needs to be better organized. “Pepco had no idea who was on and who was off,” he said.

He said that in one instance, a linesman was sitting on the street for hours before he began work. “He knows what had to be done, but he didn’t have a work order,” Cohen said.

Pepco doesn’t see much room for improvement.

“We think we responded well to what was an historic event for our system,” said Pepco Spokesperson Dorothy Perry. “I’m not sure that anyone’s going to be able to say we didn’t do everything we could have done, given the extent of the damage to the system.”

That sentiment does not sit well with the thousands of people who lived in the dark, lost hundreds of dollars’ worth of food and had to move in with friends and relatives.

“The answer isn’t, ‘We did the best we can,’ it’s ‘How do we deal with this going forward?’” Cohen said.

Going forward is just what many legislators are concerned with.

Investigations have been initiated into Pepco’s response at both the state and local level. “There has to be a meeting now on the statewide level, involving all the utilities,” said Del. Jean Cryor (R-15).

Utilities are regulated at the state level, but some members of the Montgomery County Council are taking it upon themselves to act.

“I think it is the responsibility of local government to light a fire under somebody,” said Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1). “We hear things at the local level and I think we can provide other levels of government with an objective evaluation.”

Denis and Councilmember Tom Perez (D-5) are holding a public forum with Pepco officials to discuss the situation.

Denis is concerned about the power issue from a homeland security perspective.

When a natural event can wreak such havoc, Denis wonders what would happen if terrorists tried to knock out power.

“I keep on wondering what happens if tractor man meets Isabel,” he said, referring to the North Carolina man who parked his tractor on the mall and snarled traffic for two days.

Denis favors expanding the power issue from simply a state level. “I think we need a regional power summit through the Council of Governments,” he said.

Cryor’s thinks that Pepco’s priority list should add nursing homes and assisted living facilities to the hospitals and public safety concerns. “Leisure World should be a priority,” she said.

She pointed out the time of year was fortunate — not in the heat of summer or cold of winter.

“We will not see the same things if the weather makes the roads impassable,” Cryor said. “If we get a superstorm, we will have fatalities.”