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Pepco President: Utility More Prepared Than During Derecho

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Pepco got a black eye for its handling of the derecho outages, and the utility hopes to get out in front expected repairs following Hurricane Sandy.
Markette Smith
Pepco got a black eye for its handling of the derecho outages, and the utility hopes to get out in front expected repairs following Hurricane Sandy.

Pepco says it's preparing as much as possible for the big storm expected to arrive Monday. The utility is looking to get out ahead of Hurricane Sandy — in particular, emphasizing the differences in their level of preparation compared to the disastrous handling of the derecho storm this summer.

"Well actually, there was no prep for the derecho," says Tom Graham, president of Pepco.

The derecho storm came seemingly out of nowhere, and complaints about Pepco's response time were as furious as the storm. This time, Graham vows, will be different.

"We've requested 2,500 additional crews coming in, we have over 500 on the property right now and that's a combination of contractors and Pepco personnel," says Graham. "It is all hands on deck — every employee has a second role, and they'll assume that second role whether they'll be an assessor, work on the phone system, we all have second roles."

He says a large number of smart meters have been installed in D.C. and Md. since the Derecho, which give response teams a better idea of where problems are.

"Once this system hits, the crews will be working 16 hours a day, 24 hours a day till service is fully restored to all customers," says Graham.

Just don't expect that to happen right away. Pepco is anticipating tens or hundreds of thousands of customers going without power. Forecasts  show sustained winds over the area for as much as 48 hours, and crews can't move in to make repairs until winds get below 35 miles per hour, which may put crews in the streets Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest.

Graham says Pepco has doubled the number of customer service representatives and its phone line capacity, just in case. Customers are also invited to call in outages and downed wires whenever possible, or to download and use a PEPCO app for smartphones.

Given the amount of lead time for this storm, and past history of dealing with weather events, the beleaguered utility's performance will be closely watched.

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