UI survey - Most customers satisfied with storm restoration

A majority of customers reported satisfaction with key aspects of The United Illuminating Company's response after Hurricane Sandy, according to a survey conducted by the company shortly after the storm.

About 80% of UI customers said restoration times were reasonable given the magnitude of the storm. And nearly 90% said they were satisfied with UI's handling of customers, the survey found.

Hurricane Sandy, which reached Connecticut on Oct. 29, was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and one of the costliest. UI restored a cumulative total of 280,000 customer outages and had electric service back to virtually all customers within eight days.

"After Hurricane Sandy, we witnessed many examples of customers reaching out to our personnel, contractors and mutual assistance partners and thanking them for their hard work," said James P. Torgerson, CEO of UI's parent company, UIL Holdings Corporation. "This survey confirms what we experienced in the field - that our customers understood the magnitude of the task we faced in rebuilding our electric system after this devastating storm. We, in turn, are immensely grateful for their patience."

The telephone survey of UI customers was conducted by the Center for Research in Meriden, Conn. between Nov. 15 and Nov. 20. The polling method provides a 95% level of confidence that results fall within a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.

Respondents represented all communities within UI's service territory, 70% of them living in coastal communities hit especially hard by Sandy.

Overall, 79.2% of customers surveyed said restoration periods were reasonable given the magnitude of the storm. That number was closely matched within the subgroup living in coastal communities, where 78.5% felt the post-storm restoration period was reasonable.

A majority of respondents also felt their needs were met by UI. Some 86.1% of overall customers and an even higher share of coastal customers, 86.6%, reported that they were satisfied with UI's handling of customers after the storm.

The survey found that customers understand that restoring electric service after a storm is difficult work. A clear majority, 85.6%, agreed that, regardless of the time it took to restore power, UI worked hard to do so as quickly as possible.

Among those reporting dissatisfaction (8.2%), respondents reported that it took too long to restore power.

Customers also expressed support for proactive measures to reduce potential damage caused by future storms. For example, a majority of respondents, 80.9%, support aggressive tree removal near power lines. Moreover, two in five respondents, or 40.7%, said they would be willing to pay more to move UI's electrical system underground. Another 20.3% said their support for burying power lines would depend on the overall impact on rates.

Among the survey's other findings:

o Possibly as a result of the storm activity in 2011, 88.1% of customers said they were somewhat or very well prepared when Sandy struck.

o More than three-fifths of all respondents surveyed, 62.8%, reported hearing or seeing media reports or information about the progress of restoration and total number of UI customers without power.

"It's important that we get customer feedback as we search for ways to continually improve," said Michael A. West Jr., UIL's director of corporate communications. "After all, we are here to serve our customers and their opinion is an important component of any evaluation. We always work hard to get better and better in this business."