JOLIET – It’s not always easy to understand the critical needs of a community following a significant storm event – not unless you’re in the heart of the it.
That’s why ComEd brought its operations to Will and Grundy counties last week on the heels of the late-night storms June 30 that ripped through the area, leaving almost 400,000 utility customers without power in the immediate aftermath.
“We were up and running early Tuesday morning,” said Fidel Marquez, senior vice president for ComEd. “Having this center in Joliet enabled us to have our eyes and ears on the priorities of the communities.”
For the first time in Will County, ComEd workers set up a Joint Operations Center at the county’s Emergency Management Agency building, with others set up in affected areas experiencing significant power outages, Marquez said.
ComEd also had a small operations center set up in Morris at the Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District fire station.
“We could walk down the hallway and get instant updates on the status of outages in our area,” Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said. “There wasn’t any lag in communications.”
The Joliet center served 29 municipalities and communities, including the harder hit areas such as Morris, Romeoville, Plainfield and Wilmington.
The goal of opening the Joint Operating Center was to better coordinate response times and improve customer service during significant power outages, with a focus on quickening restore times for “critical facilities,” such as nursing homes, water wells and hospitals, Marquez said.
Dozens of municipalities had pre-identified lists of critical facilities, Marquez said, giving ComEd a place to start.
“We got everybody’s priorities identified and figured out how to attack them,” Marquez said. “For example, one municipality might say they have three water pumping stations and one of them is out, and another might have all pumping stations out. In that case, we would put a priority on the one with no pumping station.”
Marquez said ComEd staff learned quickly of the major outage at Morris’ water treatment plant the morning of July 1, allowing crews to make it a priority. Electricity was returned the water treatment plant by about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, reversing concerns about the city’s shrinking water supply.
Having ComEd representatives in Morris allowed Steffes to communicate which areas needed to be prioritized, based on what local emergency crews saw throughout the city.
“We had eyes in the community, and we knew which areas were hit hardest so we were able to key in the ComEd workers to which neighborhoods needed the most work,” Steffes said.
Steffes said when it comes to disasters, having face-to-face communication is an integral part of emergency operations.
“This was really the best way to take care of it,” Steffes said.
Harold Damron, director for the Will County Emergency Management Agency, said having face-to-face contact at times at the Will County center cut down on a lot of the confusion when dealing with widespread outages.
Before, he said, communication with ComEd would be done either through the utility’s governmental affairs representatives or its dispatch centers.
• Staff Writer Jessica Bourque contributed to this report.