- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2012

Energy providers in the D.C. region are urging residents to stay safe, warm and patient as Hurricane Sandy knocks out power to thousands of homes and leaves outages that could last for several days.

Officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District say they expect the storm to ravage the region well into Tuesday night, and utility companies say they have spent days trying to minimize ill effects by urging the public to remain safe, stock up on essentials and avoid dangerous situations.

Energy companies had warned that most utility crews wouldn’t be able to get to work until the storm subsides, but Pepco — the primary provider for the District and Maryland’s D.C. suburbs — said it resumed dispatching crews to assess damage and work on power lines at about 8:35 p.m., after winds had died down to an acceptable level.

“We’re going to keep working for as long as it takes,” said spokesman Marcus Beal.

At 9:20 Monday night, more than 17,000 Pepco customers in the District and Maryland reported outages. In Northern Virginia, about 103,000 Dominion customers were in the dark. Baltimore Gas and Electric, which serves the Baltimore area and much of Central Maryland, had about 183,000 customers without power.

Local energy companies have spent nearly a week preparing for the hurricane by bringing in thousands of extra personnel through mutual assistance programs with other providers around the country.

Dominion Virginia Power has spent days scheduling shifts and arranging for 2,000 additional workers to help take phone calls and assess and repair damage, said spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson.

“We will have power outages, and it will take multiple days before we get most of those customers back on,” she said, adding that the utility is bringing in 2,000 additional workers from out of state. “We are aggressively working to get even more help,” she said.

She added that the company has reached out to customers, especially the disabled, advising them to stay home and avoid downed power lines or trees.

Pepco had brought in about 2,000 of an expected 3,700 extra workers as of Monday afternoon, with some coming from as far away as Washington state.

Spokesman Clay Anderson said crews were in the field early Monday working to repair hundreds of initial outages, but took shelter as winds exceeded 35 miles an hour — the point at which occupational health standards bar personnel from working on power lines — only to return Monday night.

While Pepco is often maligned for its response to outages, President Thomas Graham said he thinks his company is well-prepared after dealing with last year’s Hurricane Irene and June’s derecho storm, which knocked out power to about 400,000 of its 800,000 customers.

“The conditions may not allow us to go out initially, but then we’ll have to start the reassessment period,” he said. “We will be able to respond to the best of our ability.”

Mr. Anderson said that with the bulk of the work coming after the storm has left the region, residents should remain safe but not expect their power to come back too soon.

“We want our customers to remain safe and warm,” he said. “Temperatures are going to be dropping the next couple of days, and rain and wind won’t help.”