The “superstorm” Sandy ripped through the Mid-Atlantic region on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of Washington area residents lost power, and millions more on the East Coast woke up without electricity. Government offices, schools and public transportation remain closed. And coastal area residents are also just beginning the work of damage assessment and repair. We get an update from public officials, utilities and reporters who are following the storm’s aftermath.

Guests

  • Ken Barker Vice President of Customer Solutions, Dominion Power
  • Anthony G. Brown Lieutenant Governor, Maryland

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Pepco

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Dominion Virginia Power

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Report outages and check repair status by telephone at 1-866-366-4357

Baltimore Gas and Electric

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Transcript

  • 12:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. And if you happen to be catching a taxicab in Washington, you should know that the emergency $15 surcharge on D.C. taxicabs ended just about seven minutes ago at 12 noon. Later in the broadcast, the backstory of the satellite technology people depend on to track extreme weather events and what's in store for its future.

  • 12:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, sorting through the fallout of a superstorm, Sandy ripped across the Eastern Seaboard yesterday, pummeling major cities and coastal communities alike. Millions of people are without power, including hundreds of thousands in the Washington region, and more than two dozen deaths have been reported in different parts of the country.

  • 12:07:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs the winds and rains fade today, the work of assessing damage and making repairs will begin to take over. Joining us to explore what next steps we'll involve is Anthony Brown, the lieutenant governor of Maryland. He's a Democrat. Lt. Gov. Brown joins us by phone. Anthony Brown, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:00

    LT. GOV. ANTHONY G. BROWNHey, Kojo, how you doing?

  • 12:08:02

    NNAMDII'm doing well. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, Gov. O'Malley said yesterday that Maryland experienced what he calls America's weather in miniature. Coastal communities were battered. There was even snow on the western side of the state. At this point in the game, what are your immediate priorities for assessing damage and getting help to those who need it?

  • 12:08:24

    BROWNSure. Well, I would say that, you know, we have three priorities for today. One of them is life-safety operations. That's, you know, continuing what rescue and evacuation activities are necessary and ongoing. The second priority is to ensure continuity of government operations. That includes inspecting critical infrastructure and making sure that as we resume normal government operations and activities that we've got facilities and the personnel in place to do it.

  • 12:08:57

    BROWNAnd then the third priority today is shelter sustainment. I mean, we had, as of this morning, about 1,200 Marylanders in shelters around the state, making sure that we will have adequate food and water and where necessary fuel for generators for as long as they're in the shelters. The good news is that a lot of people have already left the shelters. They're returning home. We've closed some shelters, but there are still particularly on the eastern shore that continue to use and will rely on state or local shelters for the next few days.

  • 12:09:31

    NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for the lieutenant governor, if you're living in Maryland and you have a particular problem that you think he might be able to address, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask your question there.

  • 12:09:51

    NNAMDIIt's been my understanding that the Bay Bridge has been reopened. Based on your latest evaluation, what concerns do you have about the status of roads and bridges throughout the state and how they're likely to affect your efforts to get relief into affected communities, particularly in coastal communities?

  • 12:10:09

    BROWNSure. So that is accurate. We've opened the Bay Bridge. All of our bridges now are open. The number of roads that are closed, state roads and intersections without power is minimal. However, having said that, we are asking those who are traveling on Maryland roadways to exercise caution. There are a number of things to be, you know, on guard for. One is pooling water or flooding. And yesterday, unfortunately, we had one storm-related death on the roadway, and that was in Montgomery County. So we -- you know, be careful for flooding and pooling water.

  • 12:10:49

    BROWNThe second is, as motorists are approaching intersections where the signal is out, where the traffic light is out, in Maryland, we treat that as a four-way stop sign. So we are asking not to blow through, not to slow down and go through but to come to a complete stop, check -- use your right-of-way rules of the road and then proceed. So, you know, those are some of the precautions and cautions we're asking motorists to take in Maryland.

  • 12:11:20

    NNAMDIHow would you measure the performance of your state's electric utilities thus far?

  • 12:11:26

    BROWNWell, I mean -- so far, I mean, they seemed to be responding well. I mean, you know, as of yesterday, our height of outages was around 350,000 Marylanders -- this is across the state. This morning, as of 8:30, was down to below 320,000. And as of noon today, it's below 300,000. So they're making steady progress. One example where I thought BG&E responded quite well is there was a water and sewage treatment plant in Howard County that had lost power and certainly creating a hazard, a potential hazard for wastewater discharge.

  • 12:12:07

    BROWNBG&E quickly recognized the -- identified the problem, cleared the problem, has restored power, and that treatment plant is now coming back online. So the governor and I have been on the phone with executives from the utilities this morning, and most of them are assuring that, you know, 90 percent of their homes and businesses will be restored by late tomorrow. So we'll continue to work with them and press them as we do in every major incident like this.

  • 12:12:38

    NNAMDIOur guest is Anthony Brown, lieutenant governor of Maryland. He joins us by phone. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. What concerns do you have about the environmental effects of all of this? There were reports as -- that millions of gallons of sewage were spilling into the little Patuxent River yesterday. You just talked about that in the utility performance of it, but what about the possible environmental impact?

  • 12:13:04

    BROWNSure. I mean, you have environmental impacts from flooding, particularly over dams, and you have environmental impacts when sewer treatment plants go down. The initial assessment of the impact or the what's occurred at the sewer treatment is that 90 percent of the water that that was coming out of the sewer treatment plant while it was down was storm water. And for reasons that are probably more complicated than I can explain, when the plant went down, the surrounding storm water sort of entered the plant and then came out of the plant.

  • 12:13:43

    BROWNSo about 90 percent of the water was storm water, about 10 percent sewage, so while, you know, that certainly is not something to take lightly, the vast majority of the water was storm water, which would have been present anyway. So there are certainly environmental concerns and hazards that we monitor. The part of the post-storm assessment is sending out teams from the Maryland State Department of the Environment. They work with their local counterparts, and they'll begin the routine assessments, environmental impact assessments immediately.

  • 12:14:21

    NNAMDITwo days of early voting were lost to the storm. You've added an extra day of early voting on Friday. What concerns do you have about whether regular voting centers are going to be ready on Tuesday, and what do you have to prepare for Election Day?

  • 12:14:36

    BROWNSure. So, of course, power outages. You know, we want to ensure that power is restored to all of our voting precincts around Maryland by Nov. 6, next Tuesday. And where that doesn't occur to ensure that we have generators in place to power those precincts. In the more immediate, this week, early voting, we've extended early voting. There will be early voting on Friday. That's sort of a makeup day for yesterday.

  • 12:15:04

    BROWNAnd since Marylanders lost early voting today, on Tuesday, we're going to extend early voting hours both for on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Early voting will begin at 8 a.m. and will end at 9 p.m. If you're online by 9 p.m., you will be able to vote until, you know, you voted on that evening. The net loss, if you will, of early voting in Maryland will be one hour of time. So we're doing everything we can to ensure that early voting enables as many Marylanders to vote as possible.

  • 12:15:39

    BROWNThere are some issues with early voting. You know, we need to make sure that there is power, and we're not -- that we have generators. But right now, we are working diligently with the State Board of Election, the local election boards, the Maryland National Guard and local resources to make sure that personnel and resources are in place for early voting.

  • 12:16:00

    NNAMDILieutenant Governor, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:16:02

    BROWNThank you very, very much. Can I just -- one other thing.

  • 12:16:05

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 12:16:06

    BROWNGenerators. If you're operating generators, we're asking you to use caution. They need to be operated outdoors. Do not operate a generator even in your garage. It can create noxious fumes, including carbon monoxide, which could result in death and injury. So if you're using generators, please, have them outside.

  • 12:16:25

    NNAMDII read where a couple of people had to be hospitalized because of those fumes from their generators. So thank you for pointing that out. Anthony Brown is the lieutenant governor of Maryland. Lieutenant Governor, once again, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:16:37

    BROWNOK, Kojo. Thanks.

  • 12:16:39

    NNAMDIWhat has Sandy done to your neighborhood? If you've got photos, you can tweet them to us with the #wamusandy. Are you without power today? How are you getting by? Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Because joining us now is Ken Barker, vice president of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power. Ken Barker joins us by phone. Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Barker.

  • 12:17:03

    MR. KEN BARKERKojo, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be on your show.

  • 12:17:06

    NNAMDIBy most accounts, the power outages in the Washington region are clustered in Northern Virginia. As of this morning, there were still -- still, it's more than 100,000 Dominion Virginia customers without power. What pieces of your infrastructure in Northern Virginia were harmed the most yesterday?

  • 12:17:24

    BARKERWell, we've got about 95,000 out as we speak. I've just been out this morning and surveying the damage, meeting with some local officials. The good news is that most of the damage seems minor to moderate. We're not seeing a lot of poles down, wires down, rebuilding like we've had in other storms. The particular areas that have the most customers out as we speak is the city of Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County.

  • 12:17:56

    BARKERAnd it's mainly that eastern front where the storm did the most impact. We've got plenty of help in. We're going to have about 120 buckets on the ground. We've got the resources we need. Now, we've just to got scour the neighborhoods and start putting facilities back on.

  • 12:18:17

    NNAMDIHow are you prioritizing the repairs that are being made today to your system?

  • 12:18:21

    BARKERWell, today, the first day out of the chute on any big storm like this, it's critical infrastructure. I'm sure you've heard that from your other guest -- hospitals, emergency management centers. Safety is always first where there's a line down. And then, as we get those on today, we'll start going back. Schools will be a priority. We're assuming schools will be in session tomorrow.

  • 12:18:46

    BARKERI just left the city of Alexandria, and they've got three schools out. We're trying to work with them on when they'll be back on. So those are the types of priorities that we'll have today. Tomorrow, we'll be going back into the neighborhoods and getting a larger number of customers on.

  • 12:19:03

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Ken Barker, vice president of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power. How are road conditions affecting your deployment of repair trucks today, if at all?

  • 12:19:14

    BARKERYou know, road conditions don't seem to be an issue. Now, out further west in our service territory, we're fighting some snow conditions. But here in Northern Virginia, access looks good, occasional tree down. But, you know, the thing that concerns me most, I think about my own family and everybody is so active these days. We've got trick-or-treat tomorrow night on Halloween, and we just need to be so mindful of lines that are down, you know?

  • 12:19:43

    BARKERAnd it's hard to tell if it's a cable line or a telephone line. I would just urge the listeners, our customers to, you know, anything that's laying on the ground, they need to call us if in doubt and stay away from it. We're going to get all the power on safely. My worst nightmare is for someone to get hurt, and so I would just -- that would be my main message today.

  • 12:20:08

    NNAMDIYou don't want to touch any downed lines. Any other guidance you're giving customers who are waiting for power to be restored or customers who are still reporting outages to you today?

  • 12:20:17

    BARKERWell, I think what customers need to keep in mind is this is not a seven- to 10-day event. Obviously, it's -- we're still calling it a multi-day event. Today, as we assess, we'll give better guidance, but I think we can assure our customers that power is going to be on this week. But, you know, we still need to take care of ourselves. They need to, you know, make sure that the elderly are taken care of, those that need medical attention are taken care of. And so it's a great chance to take care of our families and communities as residents of Northern Virginia.

  • 12:20:55

    NNAMDIKen Barker, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:20:57

    BARKERThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:20:59

    NNAMDIKen Barker is vice president of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power. We're going to take a short break. Well, maybe before we do that, I should read you this email that we got from Jane in Silver Spring. Jane says, "I have power. It's an October surprise for sure, a Halloween miracle. So dare I say it? Good job, Pepco," says Jane. Famous last words. We'll be hearing more from others. I'm sure about this.

  • 12:21:26

    NNAMDIBut now we're going to take a short break. When we come back, the backstory of the satellite technology people depend on to track extreme weather events and what's in store for its future. It's a Tech Tuesday conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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