Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Utilities lend a hand after intense storms strike New York

A line of thunderstorms packing intense straight-line winds and three tornadoes ripped through New York’s Mid-Hudson region the afternoon of May 15, snapping trees, wires and power poles and leaving 200,000 electricity customers without power.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately declared a state of emergency in Orange, Putnam, Duchess and Sullivan counties and ordered 125 members of the National Guard to assist with the recovery effort starting the following morning.

Utility mutual aid arrangements kicked into gear, and many public power utilities, as well as investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives, sent crews and equipment to the region to help restore power.

A May 17 update from Cuomo’s office noted that utilities that sent mutual aid help to two hard-hit investor-owned utilities -- New York Electric & Gas Corporation and Central Hudson Gas & Electric -- included the public power utilities in the New York communities of Arcade, Fairport, Greene, Freeport, Lake Placid, Massena, Rockville Center, and Spencerport. Help also came from public power utilities as far away as Kentucky and North and South Carolina.

Cuomo, who traveled to Putnam County on May 16, described the storms, as “very, very bad.” Two people, including an 11-year-old girl, were killed when trees fell on the vehicles they were in, and there was golf ball-sized hail.

After crossing New York, the line of storms continued eastward into Connecticut, where two more people were killed by trees falling on their vehicles.

The storms hit the New York counties between roughly 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. By 8 p.m., they had caused 200,782 outages, said Saul Rojas, the New York Power Authority’s vice president of technical compliance, in a May 30 interview with the American Public Power Association.

NYPA was among the utilities that sent manpower and equipment to Putnam County to help NYSEG. Many other utilities also sent mutual aid, Rojas said.

“Every crew counts when you have 200,000 outages,” he said.

By May 17 -- two days after the storms – the number of outages had dropped from more than 200,000 to 78,000, according to figures from the New York Public Service Commission. By 3 p.m. on May 18, the number stood at 30,000, said Rojas.

NYSEG reported on May 16 that it had about 1,500 company, contractor and mutual assistance personnel working to restore power. Four days later, that workforce had grown to 2,100, the utility said.

The governor’s office said on May 17 that New York’s utilities added 1,250 line, tree and service workers from as far away as Alabama and Maine to their existing base of 4,300 workers for restoration efforts. Crews were moved to the places where storm damage was greatest, including Duchess, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Westchester counties.

On May 18, NYSEG said crews were continuing to repair the 1,721 downed wires and 567 broken poles, as well as 10 damaged transmission line segments.

NYPA’s Rojas said the power authority sent mutual aid crews to help repair a 34.5-kV sub-transmission line near Liberty, N.Y. – an area that stands out for its challenging, mountainous terrain.

Cuomo’s office noted in a May 17 news release that NYPA sent 14 high-voltage line workers, two supervisors, four patrol vehicles, a work trailer, two lifts, 10 pick-up trucks, and two digger-derrick trucks.

In Putnam County, some structures required rebuilding before power could be reenergized. As of 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, NYSEG reported that it had 1,400 outages remaining in that county. Those outages “are in highly damaged areas that require rebuild of customer and company infrastructure,” said NYSEG spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

“The localized damage caused by this very strong storm was beyond comprehension,” said NYSEG President and CEO Carl Taylor.

“We understand the hardships our customers and communities face when they are without power,” Taylor said in a May 18 news release issued by NYSEG. “We also want to thank our municipal partners and first responders, law enforcement, firefighter and public works personnel who continue to support us in this extreme weather event.”

In the May 30 interview, Rojas explained that NYPA has mutual aid assistance agreements with other public power utilities, as well as with investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives. “We expedite [those agreements] by direct communication with those utilities,” he said, noting that J.T. Flick, NYPA’s director of emergency management, “has developed a good personal network” with utility managers in the region.

Flick is vice chairman of the Mutual Aid Working Group, an industry group that was created in 2013 by the American Public Power Association. The working group was formed “to establish a mutual aid network for the nation’s public power utilities and develop best practices on disaster response, recovery, and mitigation,” according to the public power trade group’s website. It includes representatives from public power utilities, state associations, and joint action agencies.

The Municipal Electric Utilities Association of New York State was among the public power organizations that sent mutual aid crews to help with the power recovery effort after the May 15 storm, according to a list provided by NYPA. MEUA member communities that sent workers were Village of Lake Placid, Massena Electric Department, Village of Fairport, Village of Arcade, Village of Spencerport and Village of Greene.

The New York Association of Public Power, which includes public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives, sent crews from its member utilities Delaware County Electric Cooperative Inc., Otsego Electric Cooperative Inc., Rockville Center Electric, Oneida Madison Electric Cooperative Inc. and Village of Freeport.

The National Weather Service confirmed three tornadoes in New York on May 15, plus a macroburst and a microburst.

The NWS confirmed two EF1 tornadoes across the state line, in Connecticut, that came from the same storm system. There also was a 9-mile-long, 3-mile-wide macroburst that hit New Fairfield, Conn., between 4:37 and 4:53 p.m., killing two people.