Friday, February 17, 2012

Senate Passes GOP Emergency Response Staffing Measure for Utility Companies

Utility companies would now be required to notify the state about the number of employees it has available to respond to storm-related power outages and other emergencies within a 24-hour time period, thanks to an amendment offered by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) that passed the Senate yesterday.

Tarr’s amendment seeks to ensure that utility companies have appropriate manpower levels in place at all times so that power can be restored quickly to customers in the event of an emergency. The amendment was adopted as part of an emergency service response bill that was crafted in response to widespread power outages that occurred throughout the state during Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011 and a major snowstorm in western Massachusetts last October.

“The storms that occurred last year left hundreds of thousands of residents without power, many of them for weeks at a time, which is simply unacceptable,” said Tarr. “Utility companies must be held accountable, and my hope is that this new reporting requirement will compel them to maintain staffing at levels that are sufficient to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies and restore service in a timely manner.”

Under current state law, all electric distribution, transmission and natural gas distribution companies must annually file an emergency response plan for approval by the state Department of Public Utilities by May 15. Among other things, this plan must include: details on how the utility will communicate with customers during an emergency that extends beyond normal business hours; the names of staff designated to communicate with local officials and state regulatory agencies; and procedures for deploying crews to work assignment areas.

Tarr’s amendment requires utility companies to identify in their emergency response plans “the number of service workers available to respond to an emergency within 24 hours; and the locations where said workers are employed when not responding to an emergency.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for further action.