Our opinion: Facing the storm

Friday October 26, 2012

The countdown has begun on the arrival of the "Frankenstorm" that may or may not strike the Berk shires and the Northeast early next week and hang around at least through Hallo ween, bringing with it gale-force winds and flooding. If it packs the punch that is feared it will provide a challenge for the public utilities that were twice found wanting a year ago.

One year ago, a surprise October snowstorm caused widespread and long-lasting power outages and damage in Western Massachusetts. Two months earlier, the remnants of Hurricane Irene created a similar mess and all but washed away the Spruces mobile home park located in a Williamstown flood zone. In response, Governor Deval Patrick earlier this year signed into law a bill requiring utilities to both improve their responses to severe weather events and their communications with affected consumers. In response to a question about whether or not he thought utilities would be ready for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in a few days posed on "Ask the Governor" on WTKK-FM, the governor replied "They’d better be."

The uncertainty about when power will be restored after a major storm strikes worsens the storm’s impact, and the governor was correct when he said on the radio show that consumers do not want to hear that " ‘We’re going to have it up at midnight,’ and midnight comes and goes and nothing happens." While bad news is unwelcome it is preferable to no news or good news that proves inaccurate and unjustifiably raises expectations.

The state’s major utilities are expected to provide their emergency plans to the governor today and as the Mr. Patrick said, they had better do so and be prepared to back them up. The Frankenstorm may yet lurch off somewhere else, but if not there can be no repetition of the response of a year ago.


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