NSTAR representative faces questions

By Mary Jane Hanron
Wicked Local Marshfield
Nov 16, 2011

Marshfield — With memories of fallen trees and days without power in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene still fresh on the minds of residents and selectmen, NSTAR representatives appeared before the board of selectmen on Monday, Nov. 7 to discuss plans for future improvements in service to Marshfield.

NSTAR community relations manager Dennis Galvin said, “It was an unprecedented storm.  Millions of our customers up the coast were without power. We understand we are before you because of your concerns about safety in the first 24 hours (after the storm).”

Galvin acknowledged that competing priorities caused some of the miscommunication. NSTAR was focused on restoration of power and local safety officials were concerned with eliminating downed wires and trees to open roads. He said that the review of the Aug. 28 storm response was still evolving and there was always something after every storm they could do better and additional training coordinated with officials from various towns would be helpful.

Among the frustrations NSTAR experienced was that customers did not follow through with their telephone voice response system. Galvin said it was essential for NSTAR customers to call the 800 numbers to be logged in to the restoration system.

“Customers were calling the emergency management center or hanging up on the NSTAR program,” he said. “If they called and did not get a human on the line they needed to stay and complete the automated response system. This is how they get into the queue.”

Selectman Matt McDonough said he had ridden along with Marshfield public safety officials following the storm and discovered that restricted access to certain neighborhoods was a major concern due to fallen or damaged wires.

“Your problem appears to be manpower; it’s a simple fact,” he said to Galvin. “I was at a meeting at the emergency management center the following day and the head of every department in Marshfield was there. There was no representation from NSTAR, not even a phone presence. Our DPW, fire and police were working very hard. Our residents have expectations. We did all we possibly could do without any support from NSTAR. We were maxed out. Your priority was turning on power. Our priority was clearing roads. We have to be able to reach people in emergency situations or who have equipment (like oxygen) they need to stay alive.”

Galvin said that Marshfield was one of 18 towns he and his staff oversaw during the storm. McDonough said that NSTAR needed the capacity to take on additional staff in a short period of time to avoid a similar outcome in the future.

Selectman Steve Robbins said that it was a priority for emergency director Lt. Paul Taber to be able to communicate with someone from NSTAR to know the status of the crew, what lines were live and what lines were safe to be removed. Robbins asked, “What has changed from then to today?”

Galvin answered that their review of the situation was still evolving and that the storm had been unprecedented. The whole service area was devastated from a combination of storm duration, sustained winds, excessive rain and full canopies of leaves still on the trees. “We realize we need to get people out here sooner than we did,” he said.

Selectmen Chairman John Hall asked if it would be possible to have someone stationed at the emergency management center to communicate with Taber quickly and react to areas that had emergencies. Galvin said that future decisions would be made based on the severity of the storm. “Each storm has its own personality,” he said. “It is part of the ongoing dialogue we are engaged in.”

Stressing that a faster response was still desirable, Hall asked fire Chief Kevin Robinson for input.

“I was out all (that first) night during the efforts to open roads,” he said. “The fire department responded to 46 calls about wires in the 12 hours before the first NSTAR truck appeared. Including response from the police the total was much higher. We need someone qualified to identify which wires are live and which ones can be removed so we can open the road.”

Another frustration, Taber said, was dealing with different NSTAR personnel in the storm’s aftermath, which was not efficient. 

Taber said since August he believed progress had been made and he had seen an improvement in NSTAR’s communication system. NSTAR had reached out before the Oct. 31 storm and there had been an open line of communication. He said he looked forward to working with them in the future and that increased training programs would contribute to better service.

Taber also said that the public shares responsibility in helping to maintain safety during emergencies.

“It is critical that he public listens to safety officials and follow directions,” he said, adding that following Irene there were miles of traffic on Marshfield roads creating hazards for safety workers and hindering rescue and clean up efforts. “If all the public does is to have a battery powered radio so they can get updates during a power outage, we need them to cooperate. It is essential to public safety and they play an important role.”