Southern California Edison violated safety rules and relied on outdated emergency procedures during a series of destructive wind storms that knocked down power poles and left nearly half a million people without electricity, regulators said.
The giant private utility also failed to preserve evidence in the case, making it impossible to know the full extent of the violations, the consumer protection division of the California Public Utilities Commission said.
Regulators also slammed a number of communication companies that co-owned equipment with Edison, saying that AT&T, Time Warner Cable and others also violated safety requirements for the power poles.
The report, dated Jan. 11, comes just months after a grisly incident in Valley Village brought home the danger that downed power poles can present.
In August, two women were electrocuted in the Los Angeles community of Valley Village as they tried to rescue a man whose car slammed into a utility pole and a fire hydrant, knocking down the live wires and getting them wet.
That incident did not involve poles owned by Southern California Edison.
But in the case of the windstorms, which took place in late 2011 in the San Gabriel Valley northeast of Los Angeles, the commission was highly critical of the safety and emergency plans that the giant private utility put into action.
Edison president Ron Litzinger said Tuesday that it had worked hard to improve its plans for restoring power after incidents like the windstorms, which knocked down 248 power poles and affected 1,064 overhead conductors.
The company also planned to begin a study of its power poles.
"Our performance in the San Gabriel Valley following the 2011 windstorm fell short of our own expectations, as well as those of our customers, local elected officials, and the commission," Litzinger said in a prepared statement.
"As a result, we have established a comprehensive program to strengthen our service restoration and communication performance during and after storms," Litzinger said.
In its report, the commission said that many of the utility's power poles were rotten, filled with termite damage and dry rot. In some cases, the dry rot caused “virtually 100% loss of strength” in the poles, the commission said, meaning that they collapsed entirely under the force of the winds.
In addition, the report said, the utility failed to properly stabilize many of the poles with so-called guy wires, which are cables attached to the poles that help to keep them up, much like those used to hold up the poles on a camping tent.
Also after a serious outage like the one in the San Gabriel Valley, utility companies are required to make all evidence available to engineers from the state utilities commission, so they can figure out what went wrong and address safety issues.
But of 248 power poles knocked down by the storms, only five could be reconstructed by the commission’s engineers, the report said. The utility destroyed all but 60 of the poles, the report said.
Those that were turned over had for the most part been cut up into pieces, the report said, and shreds of various poles were mixed together in the bins provided to safety engineers.
“These efforts were immensely hindered by the nature of SCE’s collection and cataloguing methodology,” the report said.
The cable and communication companies listed in addition to Southern California Edison in the report were AT&T, Champion Broadband, Charter communications, Sunesys, Time Warner Cable, TW Telecom and Verizon.