Fire official takes Edison to task

La Cañada Flintridge residents aren’t the only ones who think Southern California Edison bungled its communication efforts during the windstorm two weeks ago.

Los Angeles County Battalion Chief Ron Larriva told the City Council on Monday that the Fire Department wanted to offer assistance in the recovery from the storm, but SCE’s plans didn’t include taking advantage of that assistance.

“The problem I had was working with Edison was there was no point of contact. I was refused initially in my attempts to contact their PIO [Public Information Officer],” he said. “Eventually on Sunday I was able to get in their camp, but by that time the damage was already done.”

This lack of communication contributed to the delays in restoring power, as Edison and Fire Department personnel didn’t quickly apportion their shared responsibilities, Larriva said.

“We couldn't get in to do what we had to do to clear the streets because the power lines were down, and we didn’t know if they were live or not, but SCE said they couldn’t go in there until we moved the trees. So we were at a standstill,” he said.

Larriva said that the problem was that Edison had no supervisors in the field, preventing the Fire department from coordinating with crews.

“Their incident commander didn’t want Fire there,” he said. “Edison needed to put some supervisors out in the field so they could work with us.”

Larriva said that if SCE had established a unified incident command system ahead of time, like L.A. County Fire did with the local branch of the National Forest Service after the 2009 Station Fire, the lines of communication and areas of responsibility between agencies wouldn’t have been an issue.

SCE spokesperson David A. Ford said that the company recognized that their communication with local disaster response agencies could be improved.

“We realize that, we’re currently on ways to improve the process to communicate and collaborate with local agencies that are first responders,” he said. “We’re working with … [multiple] agencies so that we can effectively implement a coordinated plan to respond to emergencies of this nature.”

Ford said that it was important to keep in mind that the storm was exceptional.

“This storm was a one-of-a-kind storm,” he said. “We’ve never had winds come through this area, probably in the last 30-40 years, that had such an intense path.”

Still, he acknowledged that improving cooperation with local agencies could also have helped ameliorate residents’ concern over the lack of information that came from SCE during the disaster.

“Communication is one area in which we’re definitely going to collaborate and develop partnerships to improve our readiness,” said Ford. “I think a plan that would have included all first responders and agencies would have helped us with restoration and communication.”

Council member Laura Olhasso told Larriva she was concerned that SCE wouldn’t make these sorts of changes.

“Going forward, do you all have the oomph to work with Edison to develop this incident-command kind of model, are they going to listen to you?” she asked.

Larriva said that the more pressure Edison receives, the better the chances.

“The more individuals, city, staff, that come to them and say, ‘this is what the Fire Department uses in incidents like this, and it works,’ the better,” he said.

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