Utilities Not Included in City Emergency Plan

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 5:09pm

EL PASO – The city was brought to a standstill last week as a result of rolling blackouts and water shortages. The crisis had many asking whether the city is prepared to handle an emergency situation, when utilities are affected. As it turns out, the utility companies are not included in the city's emergency plan.

We could not obtain a copy of the emergency plan because of security issues, but the Emergency Management Coordinator for the City and County of El Paso, Ralph Johnson, said the emergency plan includes a “utility annex” that states utility companies should have their own plan in place to restore service, in case of an emergency. Basically, the plan does not detail what the utilities have to do-- it's up to the companies.

The news took some City Council members by surprise.

“Now that I found this out, I think on Tuesday's agenda, we need to put an item on, that the utilities need to work with the city's emergency plan...make it one big plan,” said Rep. Ann Morgan Lilly.

However, El Paso Electric is a privately owned company. While it has a franchise with the city, Rep. Susie Byrd said the city can't tell them what to do, in an emergency.

“With the rolling blackouts we can say, 'hey, we think it's a good idea if'...but we can't say, 'you have to do this,'” said Rep. Byrd.

Rep. Lilly said given what El Pasoans endured last week-- rolling blackouts, water outages; both the city and utility companies need to work together, to make sure this doesn't happen again.

“We need to get a plan that coincides with their plan and we need to move together and work together on this,” stated Rep. Lilly.

But what are the chances of that happening? Council Members said they are going to evaluate what happened, so El Paso is better prepared, next time temperatures dip.

“We're going to...assess what happened, why it happened...and really come up with an action plan,” said Rep. Byrd.

Both the power and water utilities told us they have an emergency plan in place. El Paso Electric said rolling blackouts are part of that plan, if there's a chance the whole power grid goes down.

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