The violent storm that tore across the mid-Atlantic region last Friday night left millions without power and a massive recovery effort for public utility companies. As crews with Pepco – the utility company that provides electricity to D.C. and Montgomery County, Md. – went to work, so did the company's lawyers.
The storm left 443,000 of Pepco's 788,000 customers without power. As of today, about three-quarters of those outages were resolved, according to Pepco. Jack Strausman, a deputy general counsel for Pepco Holdings Inc., said in an interview that the company's lawyers, like all other employees, have a pre-defined "storm role." Pepco Holdings is the parent company of Pepco, Delmarva Power and Atlantic City Electric.
For the company's 23 lawyers, their storm role is staffing what's called the "escalated call team." If a customer calls Pepco and isn't satisfied with the response they get, they're transferred to a member of the "escalated" team, Strausman said. "The lawyers are essentially the end of the line for customers calling in during the event."
During and after a storm, Strausman said that attorneys on the regulatory side are preparing for reports that have to be filed with the company's regulators after any major event. "They're working to make sure we're getting the proper tracking information and the proper reports are filed," he said.
Regulatory lawyers are also involved in preparing for any investigations public officials and public service commissions might launch after a storm. In the past, Pepco has faced harsh criticism from local leaders in the District and Maryland for its response to mass power outages.
In Strausman's division, which handles general law issues, attorneys are typically fielding claims for damages that come in from customers. The most common claims are for food that's gone bad, a claim that Strausman said Pepco doesn't pay. For companies filing claims for loss of business, he said Pepco lawyers work with them to explain that while Pepco doesn't pay those claims, they'll issue a letter of denial that businesses can take to their insurance companies.
Strausman said he and other lawyers are also on hand to deal with any other post-storm needs that require legal assistance. This morning, for instance, he said that he was working out a license agreement with a county in New Jersey so that Pepco could use one of its facilities for refueling.
"We are engaged during this process," he said.