- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

Executives from Metro, Potomac Electric Power Co. and Dominion Virginia Power were among those summoned to Capitol Hill yesterday for a congressional hearing into how they performed before, during and after Hurricane Isabel.

“Could we have been better prepared?” asked Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

For more than two hours, Mr. Davis and three colleagues from the Washington area grilled utility executives, emergency-management experts and others. They also encouraged those decision-makers to seek outside consultants to review their efforts independently.

“Are we ready to respond if a storm coincides with a protest? What about a storm coinciding with an attack on the capital?” Mr. Davis asked.

Members asked nearly every participant to weigh in on the decision by Metro officials to shut the 103-mile subway and pull its 1,400 buses off the streets at 11 a.m. Sept. 18 — hours before the storm hit. The system did not reopen until 8 a.m. the next day. It was cited as a factor in the Office of Personnel Management giving 350,000 federal workers a four-day weekend.

“When Metro decided to shut down and the federal government decided to follow suit, it created a ripple effect that cost taxpayers about $70 million,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, who asked if transit service could have continued through late afternoon, when conditions began to intensify.

Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White said his management team had no experience with a hurricane the size and strength of Isabel. Metro consulted with experts from the National Weather Service, the Federal Transit Administration and Florida’s Miami-Dade transit system before deciding operations were unsafe once sustained winds topped 40 mph.

“We were also concerned that some people could become confused and stranded in the Metrorail system just as conditions were worsening,” Mr. White said.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, characterized the pre-emptive closure as “a decision made by liability lawyers.”

Utility company executives also were questioned about service disruptions, restoration efforts and customer service response.

“Both Metro and Pepco have lost a lot of credibility with the people in this area,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat.

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