LIPA Violates Basic Crisis Tenets

More than two weeks after superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, as of Sunday, Nov. 11, power was still out for 120,000 customers in New York and New Jersey. Needless to say, those customers are cold, in the dark and extremely frustrated.

No utility company has drawn more customer criticism than the Long Island Power Authority, with some 50,000 businesses and homes still without power and 55,000 more that can't go back online because their own wiring must be fixed—even though their local grids were repaired, reports AP. 

To make matters worse, the LIPA's communications with customers has been widely panned, which has the utility backpedaling. "We certainly understand the frustration that's out there," LIPA's chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said in a conference call on Sunday. Hervey went on to say that the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked and the power was coming back rapidly "compared to the damage that's been incurred."

While it's true that other utilities were in a similar situation, LIPA admitted that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that the company is now working to update. Hervey said the system will be ready next year.

Consequently, politicians are getting into the fray. Nassau County executive Ed Mangano was quoted on Sunday as saying, "'They're working on it, they're working on it' — that would be their common response. How could a utility of that size, with the financial support that it receives, fail to communicate with its residents? Its basic logistics seem to have failed."

It's not just a logistics failure, it's a basic crisis communications failure. LIPA failed to take the worst-case scenario into account in its crisis planning, while also failing to keep its customer communications technology up to date. In this case, "we'll be better prepared next year" just doesn't cut it.

To help those displaced by Sandy and out in the cold, check out these options:

  •  Feeding America is accepting donations to purchase food, water and other supplies for storm victims;
  •  AmeriCares is accepting donations;
  •  Personal hygiene items are being provided by World Vision. To donate, click here; and
  •  For unofficial ways to find help, jump on Twitter and search for #sandyvolunteer.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01