Columbia Law-led coalition says NY telcos, utilities must improve disaster response plans

With many New York communities still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a coalition on Wednesday asked the state to mandate that telcos and utility companies have a sound plan in place to ensure that their critical systems are protected during storms and other environmental events.

New York PSC power outages 2011

NY PSC's 2011 Reliability Performance Report noted 72 million power outages due to storms. (Source: Columbia Law petition)

In its filing with the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), the coalition wrote that the damage that Hurricane Sandy caused to electric and gas lines in the New York metro illustrated the "weakness in long-term planning across the state, as customers have been left without access to electric, gas, steam, telecommunications and water utilities for extended periods."

It told the PSC that it should require any public utility that operates in the state to develop plans that examine how changes in the climate could increase the likelihood of flooding, sea-level rise and more frequent and intense storms.

Eight groups, including Columbia Law School's Center for Climate Change Law, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters, Pace Law School's Energy and Climate Law Center, the Municipal Art Society of New York, Earthjustice, Environmental Advocates of New York, and Riverkeeper jointly filed the petition.

"Utilities are not currently required to engage in long-term hazard mitigation planning, which would consider future projections for the natural hazards that may affect New York State given changing climate conditions," the filing read.

"We all know that Sandy will not be an isolated event, and it is incumbent upon the public utilities in this state to prepare for the escalating impacts of climate change," said Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney of Earthjustice, in a Times Union article.

The filing noted that Hurricane Sandy was not a unique event: Following Hurricane Irene in 2011, more than 400,000 New York City residents were without power

One of the key problems that hampered efforts during and after Sandy was flooding.

Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), for one, reported excessive flooding in a number of its central offices (COs) in three of its New York locations: Lower Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.

Although Verizon has not released how much it would cost to restore services and associated cleanup, James Ratcliffe, a Barclay's analyst, estimated that Sandy could ultimately cost Verizon about $306 million, up from the $180 million cost estimate he forecast for Hurricane Irene.

For more:
- read the petition (.pdf)
- the Times Union has this article

Special coverage: Hurricane Sandy's aftermath

Related articles:
Verizon, despite lack of commercial power, continues to restore service in New Jersey, New York
XO continues to restore service throughout NYC, NJ, PA, Ohio territories
Verizon takes advantage of Superstorm Sandy to accelerate copper-to-fiber migration
Optical Communications Group extends fiber to NYC's 75 Broad Street