Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday ordered Maryland's Public Service Commission to investigate how well power companies in the state respond to natural disasters, a week after hundreds of thousands of residents lost electricity because of Hurricane Floyd.
Glendening (D) called Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s response to the Sept. 16 storm "unacceptably slow." He also asked the commission to look into the Potomac Electric Power Co.'s performance during last winter's ice storm, when service to thousands of homes was interrupted.
The hurricane knocked out electricity to 490,000 of BGE's 1.1 million customers. Some 27,000 customers spent five days without power, and at least 23 unfortunate households went a full week without electricity, according to utility spokesmen.
"I share the frustration and concerns of Maryland families who were without power for way too long," Glendening said in a statement released by his office.
Glendening asked the five-member commission to report to him by Dec. 1 on whether the power companies were responding to customer inquiries with "timely and complete" information and whether they had adequate staffing for natural disasters and emergencies.
Glendening also directed the commission to investigate whether the utilities were taking steps to prevent damage in future storms.
Rose Mulhausen, a BGE spokeswoman, said the governor's directive was "not unexpected."
"We did our best, but we are willing to review our procedures and to plan improvements," she said.
Mulhausen said the utility had launched an internal review of its power restoration procedures, its customer call center and its dry ice distribution.
"We will forward the results to the commission and to the governor as soon as we are done," she said.
The governor's action came as complaints mounted from other elected officials about the power outages resulting from Floyd.
Anne Arundel County Council member John J. Klocko III (R-Crofton), who represents the county's southern district, where flooding and power outages were widespread, said the investigation was "appropriate."
"I would've thought they could've restored power much more quickly than they did," he said.
State Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's) sent a letter to BGE this week that faulted the utility's communications system.
"Many people called and all they got were busy signals," Green said. "And when people did get through all they got was, 'We'll get back to you' or 'We're working on it.' "
Green recommended that BGE install a system similar to that used by Conectiv, the power company serving Delaware, New Jersey and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. That company's automated response line recorded the location of power outages. Customers who left messages were later called back by utility representatives.
"Even if it doesn't get power restored any quicker, people still feel like they're being heard," Green said.
A spokeswoman for Conectiv cautioned that performance comparisons were difficult because BGE's service area was hit much harder by the hurricane. Conectiv reported that 34,600 of its 1 million customers lost power during the storm and that "virtually all" of them had service restored within three days.
CAPTION: Ray Bandy, of Richmond, repairs a burned transformer on Temple Hill Road in the wake of Hurricane Floyd.