Utilities required to plan for natural disasters

A new law inspired by the windstorms that hammered the San Gabriel Valley in 2011 was signed into law over the weekend, forcing utilities to develop emergency management plans and work closely with local cities on how to respond to natural disasters.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), requires Southern California Edison and other privately owned utilities to develop an emergency and disaster preparedness plan every two years and to hold comprehensive disaster preparedness meetings with the counties and cities they service. The first meeting must take place within the first three months of 2013.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Sunday that he had signed the measure.

Edison’s response to the Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 windstorm, which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of San Gabriel Valley residents, was roundly criticized by Portantino and other local lawmakers at the time.

Some La Cañada residents were without power for several days, and some Edison customers lost power for a week.

Lawmakers accused the utility of offering a confused and slow response, and Edison subsequently issued a report promising to improve its disaster-response performance and reach out more effectively to the public in times of crisis.

Portantino said that he was happy to see the governor move to ensure that utilities respond quickly to emergencies.

“I’m ecstatic. This bill has some significant teeth as far as far as the California Public Utilities Commission setting strong standards… It has accountability,” said Portantino.

“We learned some things from the major wind disaster last December that change how we look at these events,” Portantino said in a statement. “Having utilities review their plans every two years will force better coordination, better service and better public safety.”

Edison spokesman Dan Chung said utility leaders knew they had to improve disaster preparedness after the 2011 windstorm.

“As you can imagine, we had a lot of expensive lessons learned,” said Chung. “From transmission and distribution to our corporate communications department to across the board, we brought in all the subject matter experts to devise better ways we can handle storms.”

Chung said Edison supported Portantino’s bill and was planning preliminary preparedness drills to be put in place next year.

La Cañada City Council member Laura Olhasso said the city backed Portantino’s bill, and noted Edison has been more responsive to local concerns since the windstorm.

Last month, Edison officials sat down with residents in the Big Briar Way neighborhood to address concern about outages in that area.

“I think [Edison is] somewhat more responsive,” Olhasso said. “I think they are limited by funding, though we keep trying to put our city’s aging infrastructure at the top of their list.”

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