The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 25, 2012

Pa. utilities, road crews prepare for major storm

HARRISBURG — Utilities, road crews, and emergency management personnel throughout Pennsylvania are keeping a close watch on Hurricane Sandy.

Utility workers have been told to cancel vacations, state transportation officials are plotting storm strategy and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has been in touch with federal weather forecasters about the likely path of the storm.

Sandy made landfall over Cuba on Thursday. Forecasters say the storm may combine with other weather systems to create a major storm over the northeastern U.S. early next week.

PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said the utility has canceled personal time for its workers, asked hundreds of local contractors to remain on standby and reached out to its sister utility in Kentucky in case crews need to be brought in.

PPL’s phone and computer systems were overwhelmed last year when Hurricane Irene and then a late October snow storm caused hundreds of thousands of customers to lose power. Wood said the utility has since made upgrades, adding phone lines and call center staff, and is better prepared to handle a monster storm.

“We’re in a much better place this year,” he said.

Other Pennsylvania utilities, including PECO and FirstEnergy, said they’re also getting ready in the event Sandy slams the state. PECO opened its emergency operations center in Plymouth Meeting, outside Philadelphia, on Thursday morning.

“While some forecasts bring a hurricane bomb up into central Pennsylvania, other models take it out to sea.”

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency urged residents to prepare for a possible storm by making sure they have three days of supplies at home and that they know how to reach family members in case of emergency. PEMA spokeswoman Ruth Miller said the agency has been in touch with federal weather forecasters about the likely path of the storm, but added it’s “a little early” to be in full disaster preparations mode.

State transportation officials in Harrisburg will be plotting storm strategy with PennDOT’s 11 regional offices on Friday.

“We get decision makers on the line to really talk about, OK, what’s our strategy? Is this ready? Is that truck ready? Do we have enough salt moved? We go over the nuts and bolts of really managing the storm to make sure we are on the same playing field,” said PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar.

Chizmar said PennDOT has 2,250 trucks that can be pressed into service as snow plows and salt spreaders. But with the storm still days away, it’s a little early to move equipment into place, he said.

“While some forecasts bring a hurricane bomb up into central Pennsylvania, other models take it out to sea,” he said.

He said now is a good time for motorists to make sure they’re vehicles are ready for winter and stocked with an emergency kit.

State elections officials in Harrisburg were not planning any precautionary warnings or action in anticipation of the storm, for now.

The 67 counties run elections in Pennsylvania and it is their responsibility to have contingency plans for storms, floods, fires and other events that could interfere with voters casting ballots on Election Day, said State Department spokesman Ron Ruman.

Backup measures may include designating alternative polling places, he said.

Also, county election board also may petition the county’s president judge to extend voting hours on Election Day to compensate for temporary interruptions in balloting.

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