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Selectmen faced off with two National Grid executives on Nov. 14 over their lack of communication in the aftermath of the Oct. 29 storm that knocked out electrical power in some neighborhoods for as long as four days.
But it was resident Sandra Kelley who suggested a viable solution to the problem.
“If our 70-year-old president can tweet in 140 characters from around the world, so can National Grid,” she said, suggesting that the company’s communicators use Twitter to keep customers updated.
National Grid has an Outage Central section on its website providing information about the reparation schedule during a power outage. But in the four days after the Oct. 29 storm the information was vague and indefinite, noted Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet.
“You need to improve your website,” she said. “When I see ‘assessing’ I see red.”
Taking the heat were Cordi O’Hara, president of National Grid Massachusetts and Daniel Bunszell, vice president of New England Electric Operations and the Incident Commander during storms.
Bunszell acknowledged that when company officials upgraded the storm to a higher level of concern, they neglected to share that information with Fire Chief Joseph Targ who is the commander for the company’s Zone 6, consisting of Tynsgborough, Chelmsford and Westford.
“…it would have opened up a lot more of the lines of communication…it would have engaged the town in our restoration efforts. That was an opportunity that I think we missed out on,” Bunszell said.
Police Chief Thomas McEnaney noted how difficult it was for residents with serious health problems, reliant on medical equipment, to know what to do as they waited for the power to come back on. With no indication of when they would have electricity, the residents could not assess whether to leave their homes in search of shelter with electricity.
“We didn’t know what to tell the people,” McEnaney said. “It’s absolutely imperative you get back to us.”
Targ related a difficult situation firefighters faced when a homeowner took it upon himself to cut down a broken tree and it fell on wires.
National Grid spokesman Danielle Williamson said company officials have an internal review after every storm and incoporate the feedback from customers with their own findings.
She stressed the company’s efforts to be responsive.
“If you look at the overall storm…we had 92 percent restored within three days. The remaining 350 customers came back within four to five days.”
Williamson said the recent storm was one of the top three storms to hit the National Grid service area within the last 10 years.
When pressed to explain why local electric companies such as the Littleton Electric Light and Water Department seldom faces long-term outages, Williamson pointed out the benefits of a bigger company.
“We are able to marshal greater resources because we are a larger utility,” she said.