Deval Patrick says Hurricane Sandy will test utilities’ response under new customer service law

Governor Deval Patrick says the approaching Hurricane Sandy will not only test the state’s emergency preparedness planning, but also that of utilities now operating under a new law aimed at making them accountable for emergency response services and notifications.

“We’ll be watching them and watching the storm through the course of the weekend,” the governor said during his monthly appearance on WTKK-FM.

Patrick said the most recent weather reports show rain from the storm, currently around Cuba, should reach Massachusetts by Sunday night. A more southerly track would cause coastal flooding, while a more northerly track would cause inland flooding.

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In conjunction with the storm’s approach, the governor said state utilities are slated to report to him by Friday about their plans for both storm damage repairs and customer service response.

Asked if he expected them to be better than those that faltered in 2011 after Hurricane Irene and a freak October snowstorm, the governor said, “They better be.”

Both storms were the impetus for a bill Patrick signed into law in August.

It aims to improve emergency response services in Massachusetts by requiring public utility companies to establish a well-staffed call center during major storms, and to coordinate with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency when implementing an emergency response plan, among other things.

It would also require the companies to pay an assessment charge, which cannot be passed onto customers, to help fund the state’s Department of Public Utilities storm investigations. The law does not specify how much the charge would be.

Neither the charge nor fines for inadequate storm response would be passed on to consumers. Fines would be returned to consumers.

“People don’t want to be dealing with their utilities being out for days at a time, but if it’s going to be days at a time, they want to know it’s going to be days at a time and not, you know, ‘It’s going to have it up by midnight,’ and then midnight comes and goes and nothing happens,” Patrick said.