Bill Aims to Improve Utilities' Disaster Preparedness

“We just saw firsthand that our public utilities can do a better job."

A California Assembly Member has proposed legislation to improve emergency and disaster preparedness by California’s public utilities following a series of storms earlier this month that left thousands without power for more than a week.

A bill by Assembly Member Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) calls on each utility to report with every county in its service area every two years for the purpose of reviewing, updating and improving their emergency disaster and preparedness plans.

“We just saw firsthand that our public utilities can do a better job. Clearly, they were not prepared for a disaster of this magnitude," Portantino said in a statement.

More than 434,000 customer accounts -- representing businesses, schools or residences -- were blacked out in Southern California Edison's service territory. It took the utility more than a week to restore full service, angering residents and leading government officials to call for an investigation.

Southern California Edison President Ronald Litzinger said the utility worked as fast as it could to restore service but repairs took much longer than anticipated.

Litzinger said the utility struggled to come up with accurate restoration times for many customers and those who called to find out what was happening were frustrated by a complicated computerized phone system and could not reach service representatives.

Portantino said the recent wind disaster was a wakeup call to be better prepared.

"Having a review every two years will force better coordination, better service and better public safety.” Portantino said.

Counties would be asked to inform cities within their jurisdiction about each meeting so that cities and the public can provide input into emergency planning.

The legislation also calls on the California Public Utilities Commission to use its regulatory authority to set preparedness standards such as using weather reports to better position manpower and equipment before a storm. The bill would also seek to improve communication between government agencies and the public.

“We learned some things from this calamity that will forever change the way we look at these disasters,” Portantino said. “Like most ratepayers, I know that a portion of my bill is intended to pay for emergency preparedness and response; let’s make sure it does."

The bill is being written as an “urgency measure” and would go into effect if signed by the Governor.

It would require that California public utilities conduct these disaster preparedness meetings within 3 months of the legislation becoming law, according to Portantino's office.

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