It has been almost a year since Hurricane Irene hit the Jersey Shore and massive snow storms wreaked havoc on the power grid in the garden state.
Now, with temperatures expected to stay close to 90 degrees for the rest of the week there are still concerns about smaller outages in the township. Even this past weekend for a few hours.
At the last meeting of the Howell Council Peter Johner, JCP&L's Manager for Customer and Community Relations said the utility has been working to improve not only its customer services abilities but also its work maintaining power in the area.
One of the biggest changes Johner said JCP&L made was an update to its website including a map of the area outages right up front. "As soon as you pull it up, you'll see it," he said. "Any customer that is served by JCP&L can actually report their outage through the website."
Along with their own website Johner said they have added a Twitter feed and a Youtube channel to help customers during outages and help them know what is going on during an outage. "We'll be able to give updates about our restorations so people know exactly where our crews are," he said.
Plans are also being finalized to put computers in JCP&L's trucks which will help give customers a better idea of where crews are during repair efforts. Johner said a common complaint the company gets is seeing line trucks not working in a particular area when there is an outage. He said that is a matter of them waiting for their next assignment in the most efficient way possible. "They can do what they need to do out in the field and get people restored."
While the improvements are being done Johner said the best bet for customers to reach the company is either through their website or calling them directly at 1-888-lightss (1-888-544-4877).
Johner said the company learned several lessons from the storms of 2011 and has been working on ways to better serve their customers now. "Being that we are the largest customer based company in the country, we now have more resources that we can draw from when it comes to what we call mutual assistance," he said. That includes the ability to call in work crews from other states including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland among several others.
Deputy Mayor William Gotto said he was encouraged by Johner's report and suggested that he share the information with Chief Robert Hotmar to keep them updated on the newest procedures the company is following.
The utility representative said they are making an effort to reach out to the towns they work with to find the people they should contact in an emergency like the Fire Bureau, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Public Works and the Police Department. Councilman Robert Nicastro suggested adding the department of senior services to help keep the older residents informed as well.
Nicastro said at the meeting that he was also encouraged by Johner's report. "I had some of those concerns and I'm glad your company is finally stepping up and moving forward in communication," he said. He also talked about the in the town to prune trees in an effort to improve service.
The tree trimming process, Johner said, is part of a larger effort the company undertakes in a four year cycle. The current project, he said, also includes some new wiring to help with the system's efficiency. "Our 34 thousand volt system needs improvements," he said. "It reached its capacity and we needed to do something."
Councilman Nicastro said outages, even small ones can leave an impact on the township. "It creates havoc not only for your company but also for our residents," he said. "We have a lot of seniors and some people who depend on electric for life."
For residents who require electricity in emergency situations Johner said JCP&L has a Critical Customer Care Program. It may not provide an automatic solution, but he said it is a good first step for those who need it. "It does not mean we're going to get to them immediately," he said. "It may not just be their house that's out of power. It could be the entire circuit."
In outages, especially ones lasting longer than 24 hours Johner said they will try to make accommodations to help them get through the situation. That can include anything from helping them to find shelters and other places they can go if needed for an extended period of time.
He added that the company also works with local supermarkets to provide residents with things like ice and water for outages that will last more than a day.
Johner said all these steps are being taken with one goal in mind. "We are doing everything in our power to avoid what happened in 2011," he said.
Also at the last meeting the council and Township Manager Helene Schlegel discussed looking into as a way to save residents money while helping with the township's budgets in the future.