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Pepco Details Response Efforts as Lt. Gov. Brown Tours Bethesda Control Center

The Bethesda location was one of three stops on Brown's tour after Hurricane Irene.

Pepco officials detailed their power restoration efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irene as Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown visited the Pepco Control Center in Bethesda Tuesday.

Brown's visit was part of a planned multi-city tour that included and Greenbelt.

Brown met with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Pepco President Thomas Graham, Maryland Emergency Management Administration representative Mark Demski and dozens of other Pepco officials and employees.

Hurricane Irene left approximately 220,000 Pepco customers without power in Maryland and Washington, D.C., including more than 100,000 in Prince George’s County alone. As of Tuesday afternoon, Pepco has been able to restore power to close to 210,000 customers.

“I feel very good about where we are at,” said Graham. “Compared to [Hurricane] Isabel, which left 535,000 without power, I believe that our yearlong reliability plan and preparations are really paying off.”

Executive Leggett praised Pepco’s preparation plans, which included additional resources coming into the area as early as last Wednesday.

“They learned from the past and brought in two to three times the crews that were used during the storm of 2010, and I think the new robo calls helped too,” Leggett said.

Pepco’s Manager of System Operations Steve Alexander led the group on a tour which included three locations in the Westlake Drive facility. At the Emergency Command Center, 42-year Pepco employee Carol Murphy described her group’s functions in the restoration process.

“We get the outage reports, then do what we can to eliminate barriers to restoration—things like resource allocation and handling customers that need special attention," Murphy said.

Brown asked about how restorations were prioritized, to which Graham quickly responded that “they are all customers and are all a priority.” Pepco does have a priority list with “hospital,” “sewage/water treatment” and “private health care” at the top and “residential apartments” “residential single family” and “miscellaneous” at the bottom.

The group next met with Crisis Information Director Donna Mann, who shared some of Pepco’s new customer-facing communication efforts which include doubling the staff at call centers, voice mail capacity and incoming phone lines. She also detailed the new for reporting outages and the improved online outage map which now allows customers to drill down to a street-level view of outages and estimated restoration times.

Brown praised the workers at each stop expressing appreciation for their efforts.

“The governor and I realize that this is tough work, managing information, clearing debris and getting lines and poles back up. We get it, that no one is sitting around twiddling their thumbs,” but at the same time remarked that “we know that like us, you will not be satisfied until the outage numbers reach zero.”

The final stop on the tour was in “The Bunker,” the staff’s name for the Systems Operations Center which includes an overflow area for taking emergency and downed lines calls—1,122 of which came into the center Tuesday alone. In The Bunker, transmission operators have the authority to “do whatever they have to maintain the integrity of the system’s reliability,” according to Alexander.

Pepco spokesperson Clay Anderson clarified, explaining that the operators can shut down one portion to protect the larger system which is interconnected to other power suppliers in the mid–Atlantic.

In a brief interview session following the tour, Brown summarized his impression of the Bethesda facility, stating “what impressed me the most is the sense of emergency, from the command centers to the crews, but again I know that no one will be satisfied until the number reaches zero.”

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected. In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly stated the day the calls came into the center. We regret the error.

Richard Rice August 31, 2011 at 12:04 PM
I thought overall that Pepco response this time around, unlike most other power outages was very good. My power was out from around 2:30 A.M. till around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon which was remarkable considering how many homes and bustinesses in the area were affected.. Great job this time time PEPCO!
Mary Schmidt August 31, 2011 at 04:18 PM
However I found that Pepco's response stank, as usual. You could not get a straight answer on the phone, their recorded responses were contradictory. That robocall Friday should never have been made by any functioning utility. Utter chaos, as usual. And I bet Tom Graham can't wait to get back on TV and spread more bovine manure.

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