Volunteers and Power – Cunningham’s CornerFree Access

Ken Clair, commissioner of Emergency Services, briefs County Executive Odell at the Emergency Operations Center during storm recovery. Photo by Eric Gross

Ken Clair, commissioner of Emergency Services, briefs County Executive Odell at the Emergency Operations Center during storm recovery. Photo by Eric Gross

I ran into Kenneth Clair, commissioner at the Bureau of Emergency Services, Thursday night. Along with a couple of hundred others, we were there for County Executive MaryEllen Odell’s “state of the county” address.

It is simultaneously a political event, and a non-event. It’s rare these types of things require one to shout “hold the presses.” Truly, that’s something rarely heard these days anyway. You miss a press deadline now, as tightly as commercial printers run things, and you’re likely to find yourself stacked up behind five or six other papers who’d kill for your slot, plus the printer’s own business. We don’t miss many deadlines these days.

Topic one for Odell was “the year of the volunteer,” and, notably, the recent back-toback storms highlighted how grim things would be without our volunteers. Odell gave a thorough accounting of the county’s response, and Putnam performed well.

Clair told me that the daily conference calls among NYSEG and area emergency commanders, including those across Westchester and Putnam, had become something of an attraction. A little spectator sport until March Madness arrived. How far into the call until Clair would go wild over the latest NYSEG fiasco?

For instance, one day he and others, out surveying conditions and checking with local commanders, saw a number of NYSEG trucks parked. They had been parked for four hours or more. Clair said a worker told him, “The command structure has nothing for us to do.”

Clair added, “They wanted to work.” They just had no assignment.

You see, NYSEG’s top brass hadn’t, or didn’t want to or didn’t know about, any work to actually dispatch them to fix.

I mean, it’s not like there were tens of thousands of people without power or anything.

Oh, but wait, there were thousands of people without power.

It’s not like the county had three emergency communications towers running on generators for the better part of a week. Oh, wait, that really did happen.

And, it’s not like hundreds of people were trapped in their developments, with no way in our out because of arcing wires. Oh, wait, that happened too. “What if there’s a fire,” Clair said. “We can’t get to these people.”

And Clair said that every morning, he would run down a list of roads and priority sites that needed clearing, that needed power restored for public safety reasons. And the next day, it was as if he had been talking to the wall. The NYSEG response to the parked trucks, which he also brought up during a conference call? “Point taken,” Clair told me.

Point taken? Thousands without power, emergency communications running on generator power, hundreds trapped in developments firefighters couldn’t get to in a crisis, and the NYSEG response is this: “Point taken.” And this went on for days.


Those who know me realize I’m a huge podcast fan. One I’ve listened to recently is the Powerline episodes on Outside/In, a production of New Hampshire Public Radio (outsideinradio.org/). It was a really nice, four-part look at Hydro-Quebec, the huge utility. It was insightful, a fascinating examination of how our desire for green energy and our antipathy to fossil fuels has itself led to the destruction of ancient tribal fishing and hunting areas across Canada. Maybe things are complicated sometimes.

Anyway, Clair said that power restoration in Putnam, in some good measure, occurred because of the fellows from Quebec. Big, burly guys with huge trucks, and completely unfazed by snow. “This is nothing,” they told Clair of the snow we had.


So we know the linemen from Quebec, and the linemen from NYSEG, were both ready to work. It’s only the NYSEG brass that wanted to do more “assessment.”

I wrote last week about the foreign ownership of NYSEG by Iberdrola, SA, the Spanish company. About the storm last year in western NY where NYSEG and sister company Rochester Gas and Electric made many of the same mistakes NYSEG made earlier this month. Exactly the same mistakes.

Again, I hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Public Service Commission bring NYSEG and its foreign owners to heel. This was a leadership and management failure. If there is any justice and any sense of corporate responsibility, heads ought to roll at the top. Or maybe, in today’s corporate America, that’s not even a thing anymore, this sense of responsibility for the public’s safety.

Point taken. Right.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is publisher of both the Courier and its sister paper the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Letters on this or other topics are welcome. Limit to 500 words. Send to editor@pcnr.com. You can reach Cunningham at that email, or call 845-265-2468.

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