October 29 marked one year since Hurricane Sandy howled across the Connecticut shoreline, bringing 80-mph winds that toppled thousands of trees and a storm surge that brought devastation to many in coastal areas.
At The United Illuminating Company, Hurricane Sandy put to test the storm plans and procedures the company had updated after Tropical Storm Irene just a year earlier. By many measures, UI passed that test, restoring some 280,000 customer outages and returning service to virtually all customers within eight days of Sandy’s arrival last Oct. 29.
UI’s response drew accolades in a statewide review, received recognition from the Connecticut Red Cross and also won an Emergency Response Award for Recovery from the Edison Electric Institute — the second consecutive year the prestigious industry group has so honored UI.
However, throughout the course of the past year, UI has continued to review lessons learned during Sandy, and has continued to make significant investments to ensure the safety and reliability of its electric system in the face of future storms and similar events.
“Storms and severe weather are now a fact of life in Connecticut,” said James P. Torgerson, president and chief executive officer of UI’s parent company, UIL Holdings Corporation (NYSE: UIL). “Our customers expect us to continually prepare and make the necessary investments in our system so that we can minimize the damage when storms arrive, and restore electric service quickly and efficiently. We are also mindful of the need to work seamlessly with our partners in the state and municipal first-responders, and we have made great strides toward that end.”
Here are some of those measures:
- In late spring, UI began $11 million in short-term improvements to fortify seven electric substations — four in Bridgeport and three in New Haven — that were threatened by flooding in the past. The measures included installing pumps and back-up generators, adding cameras and water-level sensors, as well as putting in barriers to keep water out of the buildings. These substations provide the link between high-voltage transmission lines and the lower-voltage distribution system that serves individual homes and businesses throughout UI’s service area.
- It has invested in technology so that it can better keep track of external crews, and share that information in real time with municipal and other partners. After future storms, UI will be able to provide contractor and partner crews with devices that are similar to those UI already uses to track its own crews. During the Hurricane Sandy restoration, UI brought in more than 1,000 external personnel.
- The new Storm Alerts let customers sign up for text, voice or e-mail alerts notifying them about serious weather conditions. Visit uinet.com and look for the Storm Alerts.
- It has developed a new strategy to manage vegetation that poses a long-term threat to our electric system, and it expects to file formal vegetation-management plans with state regulators later this year. In addition, it has continued the “Right Tree, Right Place” public-education campaign to increase awareness of practices that can help customers avoid planting trees that could eventually threaten nearby utility equipment.
- UI is installing a new system to manage call volume during storms and other peak periods.
- UI has developed signage to let customers know it is aware of downed wires — and to remind them to stay far away for safety’s sake.
“These storm improvements are significant, and we will look to make additional enhancements as necessary that continue to ensure service to our customers,” said Joe Thomas, vice president, of UI’s Electric System Operations.
While UI continues to harden its electric system and plan for severe weather, the company also urges customers to make storm preparations of their own. UI provides information on its website to help customers to know what to do when a storm is approaching, and how to keep their families safe when a storm arrives.