By Julie Wernau
Hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by widespread outages in last summer’s storms, Commonwealth Edison announced Wednesday that it will set up temporary operation centers in areas where 20 percent of customers go without power for three hours or more.
Each of the 17 centers can be established within hours, said Anne Pramaggiore, CEO of ComEd, and will act as “local nerve centers” able to prioritize power restoration to important community buildings such as hospitals and nursing homes.
“After last summer’s severe storms brought widespread devastation and prolonged power outages to our communities, it was clear that we needed a better system to work with ComEd to ensure the timely restoration of critical facilities during a crisis situation,” said Christopher Canning, president of the Northwest Municipal Conference and village president of Wilmette.
Last summer, suburban leaders described a frustrating lack of communication from ComEd while downed power lines blocked streets and residents placed thousands of phone calls but couldn’t receive accurate information from their utility.
The so-called “joint operations centers,” Pramaggiore said, will be staffed 24 hours a day in a storm or other outage emergency, and municipal leaders will receive frequent updates from a ComEd and municipal representative at the facility.
“Working together with local municipalities, customer service will be more responsive and specialized than ever before,” Pramaggiore said.
There are about 400 municipalities in ComEd’s service territory.
ComEd has emergency operating centers in each of 17 community areas in its territory. The new joint operating centers are meant to provide an extra level of communication in the most extreme storms or outages, said Mike McMahan, vice president of smart grid and technology for ComEd. “This is really reserved for severe and catastrophic storms.”
Based on last year’s storms, he said, the joint operating centers would have been activated three or four times. In a less storm-intense year, not at all.
The two representatives manning the center would likely work out of village halls or other municipal buildings with access to electricity and the internet, McMahan said. Their locations would depend upon the circumstances.