JEA details lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew

They’re making no excuses.

“Many things went right, but some did not,” says JEA CEO Paul McElroy.

The JEA Board gathered Tuesday to workshop the response to Hurricane Matthew. By and large, the utility feels they had a strong response, but McElroy says there were absolutely lessons learned and steps they need to take to improve if something like this were to happen again.

Perhaps the biggest change will be how power restoration deadlines are set. WOKV has previously told you that McElroy said they blew that process because, after announcing a time for "substantial restoration", they encountered more tree-related damage than thought. Instead of "substantial restoration just three days after the storm, thousands remained in the dark for the better part of a week.

“In hindsight, from understanding where we were and where we are now, we should have held back on that call,” McElroy told the Board.

That ties closely in to one of the areas to address- McElroy says they can improve their initial assessment process, including getting more input from the field. He also wants the utility to improve communicating customer expectations in situations like this.

Additionally, McElroy says they will study how mutual aid was called on and deployed. Hundreds of linemen and tree crews came from across the country to help JEA in the aftermath of the storm, but only a portion of those were stationed in Jacksonville to ride out the storm and be able to get to work immediately.

“We need to continue to review the timing of the mobilization and the process of scaling up,” he says.

One area the Board and McElroy agreed to study- but seemed less convinced there would be imminent change- is whether to upgrade all of the City lines to move them underground. McElroy noted that a move like that takes serious cost-benefit analysis, because it could ultimately cost billions. Some on the Board pointed to the extensive tree canopy in the City as being the root of the issue, but acknowledged the City would not likely be willing to change that.

Aside from dealing with electric outages, a big problem JEA faces was sewage spills. McElroy says they had 67 sanitary sewer overflows over four days directly tied to Matthew- compared to a couple they normally deal with over a month.

Some of these spills were tied to generator issues, and McElroy says they will be reviewing whether they have enough generators and if those are deployed in the best manner possible. He added that they have the coverage required by the state and federal government, but want to assess if there should be more in order to meet local needs.

The good news, according to McElroy, is that 65 of the 67 sites have been cleared, and testing on one of the other sites is looking good.

“We’ll continue to test until those areas are restored to pre-storm condition,” he says.

In all, McElroy says JEA suffered about $35 million in damage. He expects that will be covered by a combination of federal and state dollars, along with some JEA reserves.

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