- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Local electric companies yesterday prepared for Hurricane Isabel’s arrival by bringing in hundreds of extra crews from out of town and readying their own workers to respond to power outages — a lesson learned from last month’s massive, post-storm blackouts.

“We can’t lay out a better plan than this so, God willing, it will be [brief],” said Stanley Wisniewski, vice president for operations at Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco).

Pepco has plans to bring in 600 linemen and foresters from Georgia and Michigan to help maintain power for its more than 700,000 customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. More than 200 Pepco crews and contractors began working 12-hour shifts at 6 p.m. yesterday.

BGE, which provides electricity for more than 1 million customers in central Maryland, Baltimore and part of Prince George’s County, has commitments for assistance from 400 linemen in Missouri, Louisiana and Florida, among other states. Those overhead line and construction crews will assist BGE’s 400 crew people.

Officials at Dominion Virginia Power, which serves 2 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, began preparing last week for the hurricane and will have a work force of 7,000, with members from as far away as Texas, Florida and Ohio.

“We are taking this very seriously,” said Daisy Pridgen, a spokeswoman for Dominion Virginia. “We’re telling our customers up front to expect outages. We’re not trying to put the fear of God into them, but we are saying this has the potential to be very bad and they should expect outages.”

Utility customers can report power outages by calling Pepco at 877/737-2662, BGE at 877/778-2222 or Dominion Virginia at 888/667-3000.

Mr. Wisniewski said Pepco has three times as many workers to take calls from customers without power than it had for this summer’s storms. About 150 call takers will answer phones at the utility’s call center.

Pepco received harsh criticism from angry customers and government officials for its inability last month to restore power to all homes and businesses more quickly. More than 250,000 customers were left without electricity, some for up to six days, when thunderstorms blew through late last month.

“We regret that people were impacted last time,” Mr. Wisniewski said. “What I can assure you is, everybody worked their hardest and put forth their best effort.”

Officials are concerned Isabel could linger, producing sustained 40-mph winds for 10 to 18 hours. Pepco crews will likely be prohibited from working near the top of utility poles if the winds exceed 25 mph.

Electric companies are encouraging customers to stock up on portable radios, flashlights, bottled water, battery-operated alarm clocks and first-aid kits, among other things.

Those dependent on electric-powered medical equipment should make arrangements to find an alternative means of shelter.

Pepco plans to distribute 350,000 pounds of dry ice to customers and has filled its warehouse with utility poles, transformers and other supplies.

BGE has 150,000 pounds of dry ice and is seeking another 300,000 pounds. Utility companies will distribute the ice in the most severely affected areas to help customers keep their food cold during power outages.

Dominion Virginia has arrangements to obtain materials such as poles and power lines if the area is hit hard, and the company has placed sandbags at four electric substations in areas that are prone to damage.

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