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Blackout tapes raise new issues

Officials said they were shocked to hear Con Ed workers and supervisors referring to the blackout as a "disaster" in audio tapes played in a WABC-TV report Friday. The recorded conversations are between Con Ed workers in the field during the blackout and company management, according to a report released by the state Public Service Commission in January.Officials said the report supports their argument that the utility's management understood the magnitude of the blackout and accused them of playing down the number of impacted residents. The utility originally reported 25,000 metered customers lost power during the outage, but the PSC report estimated as many as 174,000 people were without power."Con Edison has a very specific protocol which requires field workers to report to management," Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. "This is clearly evidence that Con Ed had an idea about the extent of the blackout on its first day. It seems clear to me that management knew how bad it was from the start but, for four days, put out false numbers."The utility released a statement addressing the WABC report saying "we have acknowledged that initially we did a poor job of estimating the number of customers without electricity. We have since made significant changes to the way we count the number of customers affected by power problems, including assigning engineers to analyze equipment data, field response teams to survey affected areas and enhanced computer applications in addition to the calls we receive from customers."The PSC refers to the audio tapes in its report, noting "(Con Ed) claims in its report of the event that its operators were continually analyzing conditions on the system and deduced that conditions did not warrant shutting down the network. "The information produced by (the PSC's) depositions of certain Con Edison employees and audio tapes of the Long Island City network operators and company management during the event do not support this statement."In WABC's report, a repair crew member tells a supervisor on an audio tape, "I don't know what's going on but like there's holes smoking everywhere down here... There's outages everywhere." The supervisor replies "One more and we're going to pull the plug." On July 19, the third day of the outage, a supervisor says, "The network is dying a slow death" on an audio tape played during the WABC report.A Con Ed spokesman said it is standard operating procedure for conversations between field operators and management to be recorded.Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is in the process of investigating whether a crime was committed by the utility's management by playing down the number of people affected by the outage. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said the City Council will hold further hearings on the blackout."Every piece of independent evidence that has come out since the blackout corroborates what we've been saying Ð that Con Ed knew the extent of the damage and lied about it," he said.

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