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Windstorm panel discusses disaster strategy

January 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
It's been weeks since San Gabriel Valley residents had to deal with toppled trees and power lines from heavy windstorms. Utility officials and residents alike got a chance to discuss their concerns in a panel meeting.

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The Thursday roundtable discussion aimed to address what could have been done better and what lessons can be applied in the event of a more serious natural disaster like a large-scale earthquake.

Panel meeting host Rep. Adam Schiff said the windstorm was an unrehearsed drill that exposed areas that needed to be worked on.

The panel included federal, state and local officials and representatives from Southern California Edison and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Many members of the community who were without power for several days and had debris littering their streets for weeks were not happy with the response by the utility companies, California Public Works and their local governments.

Representatives from the Department of Water and Power for Pasadena and a representative for Southern California Edison said the windstorm knocked down so many trees and power lines that in the days afterward, access was a problem. They also argued that removing power polls and putting in new ones is a labor intensive and time consuming process.

However, representatives from the Public Utilities Commission criticized the lack of communication, saying that there were residents without power for several days, given no word on when crews would get to them.

"In all of the responses that I heard this morning, I didn't hear any message of any kind that communication needed to be a top priority, right up there with restoring power, right up there with safety," said Denise Tyrrell, the Southern California representative with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating the response to the windstorm. Part of that investigation will concentrate on if power polls were too fragile to withstand the wind. Much of the infrastructure in the San Gabriel Valley was put in place in the post-World War II era, and the commission is looking into the possibility that so many polls snapped simply because they were too old.

More panel discussions were planned in the coming months, all aiming to get cities better prepared for disasters in the future.

See photos of wind damage across Southern California.