Barrington leaders hesitant to praise new ComEd response plan
ComEd crews have been making upgrades to the region's power system in recent weeks designed to improve system reliability and reduce outages. | Photo courtesy of ComEd
Updated: November 12, 2012 10:39AM
BARRINGTON — ComEd has changed its emergency response procedures to power outages after community leaders throughout the Chicago area took issue with the utility’s previous operations.
Municipal staffs from across the region have been working together through the Northwest Municipal Conference to come up with recommendations for ComEd on how to improve its outage response, said Mark Fowler, the executive director of the conference.
“At first, ComEd was reluctant to participate, but once the company realized the seriousness of the situation, it became engaged,” he said. “To ComEd’s credit, this time it became very pro-active.”
After months of work, ComEd has changed its procedures to reflect the ideas that were discussed during the talks, Fowler said, creating new protocols to provide better communication to communities and customers about the status of outages. It also is planning more effective dispatching of ComEd Crews during widespread outages.
According to ComEd, its infrastructure improvements and smart grid technology have resulted in 29 percent fewer power interruptions between January and September of this year when compared to last year for the same time period. The average interruptions per customer has been 0.98 times this year, compared to an average of 1.39 interruptions in 2011.
“Since there really hasn’t been any major outage, we really don’t know thus far,” said Barrington Village President Karen Darch when asked to assess ComEd’s new plan.
Previously, decisions on power restoration were made at ComEd’s centralized dispatch office in Joliet, and were based on the number of customers impacted.
That system resulted in ComEd’s municipal affairs representatives to be overwhelmed by calls from more than 20 communities, each asking for updates on power problems.
Under the new plan, Joint Operation Centers, to be staffed by ComEd and municipal staff representatives, will open when an area outage occurs, Fowler said.
They are to serve as communication hubs between the communities and the company, he added.
“This provides a direct line of communication between ComEd and municipalities,” said Larry Bury, policy director for the Northwest Municipal Conference.
Bury explained that to better prepare for emergencies, municipalities also have provided ComEd with a list of critical facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, fire stations and water pumping stations that would serve as priorities in the event of a major outage.
“These are the kids of facilities you want to remain operational during emergencies,” Bury said.
ComEd’s northern territory has been divided into three regions: Northeast, West and South. The Northeast Region is broken into Glenbard, Libertyville, Maywood, Mount Prospect and Skokie-Techny.
ComEd also has developed new communication tools, including two-way texting, a smart phone app and a publicly accessible outage map.
The texting and phone app are designed to allow customers to contact ComEd when their power is out and receive updates on work to fix it.
The interactive map will allow customers to learn the number of customers without power, that work had been done, the probable cause of the outage and the approximate restoration time.
Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said that although the exact efficacy of this new system is not yet known, he believes the groundwork is there for improved communication between ComEd and municipalities.
“There’s a framework set up in order to have a better communications system that was not in place before,” Lawler said. “Unfortunately, the best test is when there is an outage.”