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Former FEMA Head to Evaluate Power Companies'  Responses to Hurricane

By Makeba Scott Hunter
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003

WASHINGTON - The parent company of Pepco and Conectiv has hired the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate the power companies' response to the half-million customers who were left without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

Pepco Holdings Inc. said Wednesday that it has retained former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who said he expects to have a report by mid-November.

"We understand families and businesses were frustrated and angry," said Pepco Holdings CEO Dennis Wraase. It took more than a week after the storm to restore power to all the company's customers.

Wraase said Pepco Holdings commissioned the study to figure out, "What went well, what could have gone better and how can we do better in the future."

The self-study proposal comes one day after Pepco officials were chastised by Washington, D.C., Council members for the company's response to the storm, according to published accounts of the meeting.

It also comes a little more than a week after the Maryland Public Service Commission said it would mount its own investigation into the performance of the all the state's power companies after the hurricane.

State officials would not comment on Wednesday's announcement by Pepco Holdings, except to say that they would it would not affect their investigation. The PSC expects to receive reports from the utilities by Oct. 20 and plans to hold hearings on the matter toward the end of the year.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative said they do not intend to have an external review of their Hurricane Isabel performance, but instead will do internal reviews.

BGE spokeswoman Sharon Sasada said the company expects the internal review will look at "the good, the bad and the ugly" in its response to the hurricane.

More than 400,000 of Pepco's 496,000 Prince George's and Montgomery County customers lost power during Isabel. Almost all of Connectiv's 105,000 Maryland customers in the Lower Shore lost power in the storm. That is more than twice the number of customers who experienced power outages during the region's 1999 ice storms, said Wraase.

Witt, whose Alexandria home lost power during the storm, said that in addition to reviewing Pepco's and Conectiv's emergency plans, power restoration priorities, and coordination with state and federal agencies, his company would seek input from customers and community leaders before issuing a report and recommendations.

"Many of our customers have lost confidence in us and that is not something that we take lightly," said Wraase.

"That's why we've brought in someone from outside to help us build that confidence back," he said. "We will take the appropriate actions based on his recommendations."

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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