Shining a light on storm response

By Erika Mahoney

April 25, 2013 Updated Apr 25, 2013 at 1:28 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When a storm strikes, loss of electricity can be a life or death situation.

"Everything revolves around electricity," Regina Calcaterra, Moreland Commission Executive Director, said. "If we don't have power, we don't have telecommunications, we can't dispense fuel, we can't get people to the hospital."

And that's why Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to make sure all of New York's utilities are responding to storms appropriately.

The Empire State is no stranger to natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy struck and it took up to 21 days to restore power, Cuomo decided something needed to be done.

In November 2012, he created a Moreland Commission tasked with investigating the storm performance of New York's utilities.

The commission has been traveling across the state to examine the utilities and speak with the public.

Board members held their 11th and final public meeting Wednesday at Binghamton University.

Inside the biotechnology building, Southern Tier officials who attended said they were proud of NYSEG's work in emergency situations.

"I don't have a problem at all with our utilities because I know water, I know sewer, because I was there, and NYSEG has always had good relationship with the town," said former town of Vestal Supervisor Peter Andreason. "I feel safe."

"I am here to say 'thank you,' especially to NYSEG," town of Union Supervisor Rose Sotak said. "During the flood time, you couldn't ask for a better partner."

While Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee are not fond memories for those affected, NYSEG's response is.

"They went door to door with our electrical inspectors and code enforcement to restore power to our homes over a two-week period," village of Sidney Mayor Andy Matviak said. "They provided ice to our emergency centers as well as food to our emergency people who were on the ground helping. And they were there, from day one, when the flood hit."

Others commend their communication with NYSEG.

"As we come up with questions, we work with them, so we try to work cooperatively," United Way Broome County Executive Director Alan Hertel said. "I'm not sure if other call centers have that same proactive setup for information."

Officials with the commission said Wednesday feedback across the state has varied.

"The Moreland Commission isn't necessarily just to criticize utilities. It's also to learn best practices," Calcaterra said.

Calcaterra said the exchange of ideas between different regions will aid in New York's overall response.

She said it's especially important because every storm is different.

"I think with every event, there's lessons to be learned," said Brett Chellis, director of Broome County Emergency Services. "A lot changed from the flood response in 2006 to 2011.

In two months, the Moreland Commission will publish their recommendations.

The commission has already implemented some changes, including imposing fines when utilities are found to have committed a "knowing" violation.