JCP&L is getting ready for Hurricane Sandy, with extra staff on standby and a lot of lessons learned.
JCP&L clearly has not forgotten the criticism it took after Tropical Storm Irene ravaged New Jersey in August 2011. Utility officials learned from it, made a wide array of improvements in technology, communications and planning and they're ready to put that to the test, said JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano.
"We've made improvements to how we provide customer information," Morano said, adding the company is doing all it can to prepare for Sandy and to plan on how to keep officials and residents informed and well-served.
For starters, JCP&L is doing what everyone else is doing: closely watching weather forecasts, trying to figure out when and where Sandy will make landfall.
Meanwhile, it's also alerting staff to be ready to work during the weekend and beyond, making sure the parts that will most likely be needed are at their fingertips and setting up staging sites for visiting crews, Morano said.
"There's a great deal of logistical work that needs to be done," Morano said. "We also prepare for calling in any mutual assistance we may need."
The utility will again, as it did during Irene, conduct daily conference calls with mayors and other elected officials and is designating area managers, supported by extra staff, to work with towns, Morano said.
JCP&L also issued an advisory yesterday which include tips for residents about how to prepare for the storm and how to stay safe during the event. (See attached PDF.)
JCP&L serves 13 counties including nearly all of Ocean, except for Stafford Township and part of Barnegat, and Monmouth and Middlesex.
Part of JCP&L's improvements during the past year included outreach to numerous municipalities, often with utility officials visiting meetings of local governing bodies in various towns to explain what's been learned, what's been done and why the company believes service will go more smoothly in the future.
For example, a JCP&L official explained at a Point Pleasant Borough Council meeting this past August what types of improvements have been made during the past year, including allowing residents to go online to report outages.
The company now allows customers to report home and street light outages at its 24/7 Power Center on the company website, which can also be accessed through smart phones when outages leave residents without computer access, said Pete Johner, area manager for JCP&L customer and community relations in Central New Jersey.
"After Irene, there were a lot of issues with communication with this company," Johner said in a telephone interview the morning after his visit to Point Pleasant council. "So we've made a lot of communication changes. We enhanced the website, we have toll-free phone numbers in an electronic system people can call, and I'm going around meeting with municipal officials, nurturing relationships.
"We heard the politicians, as far as what they wanted," Johner continued, referring to officials relaying residents' complaints in Irene's dark, watery wake. "And we've made improvements. We're also working on infrastructure and system improvements on a daily basis."
Those using the website can also see how many other customers are without power, he added.
"Our role is changing drastically because of Irene," he told Mayor William Schroeder and council members.
And, if there is another bad storm, "I'm the guy you want to talk to," he told them.
Irene had originally been a hurricane, but, as meterologists later announced, it was actually a tropical storm when it hit New Jersey. The summer storm left 750,000 New Jersey customers without power and, along with other recent storms and a lot of rain last year, heavily damaged JCP&L's infrastructure, Johner said.
"The company is working on infrastructure improvements on a daily basis, we're spending $200 million on it this year alone," he said.
Regarding another storm-related topic, Johner said that JCP&L has concerns about residents installing back-up generators because many are not being installed properly.
"This is a big concern for us because they can cause fatalities if they're not properly installed and they can back feed into our cables," Johner said.
He said residents who want to use generators need to hire licensed electricians to install them and that they should always be installed outdoors, never inside homes or garages. That's because generators have emissions and, when released indoors, can cause death, Johner said.
To report home or street light outages by phone, call 1-888-LIGHTSS (SS is correct) or 1-888-544-4877.