Last week’s destruction was concentrated on the South Shore and Cape Cod, where the storm left mountains of snow on streets blocking access to utility equipment.
Marcy Reed, National Grid’s president in Massachusetts, said the utility was able to respond more quickly to outages because it revised the way it does damage assessment. Instead of trying to identify all problems before starting to restore power, as it largely did in the past, the company now does a “quick run-by” to locate the biggest problems, and starts repairing them while a more comprehensive assessment is completed. The change allowed National Grid to release its first estimates of when power would be restored to communities by Saturday evening, just hours after the storm ended.
NStar said it conducted its damage assessment in much the same way, but the company was more conservative in releasing estimates of when power would be restored.
“At one point it was snowing 4 inches an hour,” said Craig Hallstrom, NStar Electric president. “Before I can start to put out an estimate restoration time I have to know what’s broken [and] I can’t go look until it stops snowing.”
NStar didn’t provide its first overall estimate until Sunday — a day after National Grid. This delay sparked criticism of NStar by some government officials and customers. Falmouth resident Eric Wheeler said via e-mail that he was disappointed with NStar’s performance, despite communicating with company representatives by phone, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Every communication was irritating because I could never learn what the specific nature of my outage was, what had been done, what needed to be done, and when it was expected to be done,” said Wheeler, whose lost power at 11 p.m. Friday. His family used the fireplace to stay warm as the temperature inside dropped as low as 38 degrees.
Power returned to Wheeler’s household on Wednesday at about 2 p.m.
“I have nothing but praise for the call center employees and field workers,” Wheeler said, “but the company needs to figure out a better way to get information to their customers.”
In some of the hardest hit cities and towns, however, officials praised the utilities for their increased presence in their communities, including assigning liaisons to help keep emergency officials up-to-date.
“Prehurricane Sandy [in October], or the storms prior to that, we had the perception of no communication with NStar,” said Mashpee Fire Chief George Baker. During last week’s storm, he said, “We had someone all the time.”
At its height, the storm knocked out power for 98 percent of the town.