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What to Be Thankful For After Sandy, Where to Improve

Letter writer takes looks a look at where area was lucky, and what was lacking after Sandy.

To the Editor,

As we enter the Thanksgiving period, we should give thanks for the following in Somerset, Morris and Hunterdon counties.

1.We had plenty of warning that the storm was arriving.

2. The storm was NOT rated as a Hurricane, so the Hurricane insurance policy rider doesn’t apply and that massive deductible is waived for our insurance claims.

3. We did NOT have a degeneration of civility and massive looting.

4. The temperature was relatively mild. Except for a quick snowstorm, the weather was wonderful. This was NOT a dead-of-winter storm that would have led to much greater discomfort for an even longer period with hundreds of additional deaths. Because the temperature did not drop below 27 degrees, there was no risk of pipes freezing. People could stay warm by huddling together and sleeping with heavy covers. There was no risk of running out of home heating oil. Propane and natural gas stoves (not ovens) could be used.

5. The cellular networks survived. This was INCREDIBLY important since most land lines and cable services were disabled for an extended period of time. Furthermore, the ability to use the mobile phone system GREATLY soothed the populace that has become so addicted to their smartphones. Local authorities could not have communicated with their constituents without the cellular network. Yes, electricity from a generator or car adapter was needed to recharge those phones.

6. The capability to run an internet hotspot over the cellular network brought further communications relief and allowed many to work from home, check the news, read their mail, pay their bills, etc.

7. The state didn’t lose an appreciable amount of generating capacity, so there were no brownouts.

8. The disaster was REGIONAL not NATIONAL. Resources were drawn as far away as Kansas and Montana to supplement the meager forces that are stationed in NJ. Those remote resources could be confident that their loved ones were living normally in order for them to make the journey. Towns that retained their OWN responsibility for power distribution were back in service vastly sooner than JCP&L distribution customers.

9. Although many transformers were knocked down and had to be replaced, it in no way compares to the total destruction of all transformers that would occur in the event of a massive solar flare or EMP event.

10. There was relatively low rainfall and the authorities successfully pre-lowered the reservoirs. So flooding was limited.

What can we do better?

1. The first power repair trucks arrived in our Somerset county town fully 5 days after the storm. Apparently the JCP&L “assessment” meant deciding that Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties would receive NO support for repairs for at least four days. Morristown center was a rare bright spot, but remember the prior catastrophic outage there that caused a system redesign. There was no reason why the replacement of downed poles and transformers could not have begun immediately regardless of whether source power was imminent. Valuable time was squandered by both JCP&L and Verizon.

2. There is NO excuse for not having generators plugged into gas stations to avoid the wasted time/gas in lines. Gas stations should be mandated (via new building code legislation) to implement transfer switches in the vicinity of the emergency cut-off circuitry in order to allow a heavy duty generator to supply power in an emergency. Authorities must ensure that at least ONE gas station in each locality is operating. It compounds the problems and misery if people cannot obtain gas to run their generators or get to work.

3. JCP&L projected on Nov. 2 that 97 percent of Bernardsville customers would have power restored by the end of the day on Nov. 4. Having missed that target, JCP&L continued to insist that power would be restored to our town by Sunday midnight (11/11/2012). They missed that deadline. Badly. There should be financial penalties — to JCP&L management and shareholders, not to customers — associated with failure to deliver their monopoly on distribution of power.

4. Verizon and Comcast should be required to give TWO days of credit for each day that their voice/cable/internet service was unavailable to an account holder. They might be more inclined to repair their poles and lines rapidly and avoid the JCP&L versus Verizon pole dilemma. They hadn’t even started working in my community fully ten days after the storm. It was never communicated publicly that it was necessary to RE-call for service AFTER power was restored.

5. There should be a focus upon clearing trees from roads so that emergency vehicles could navigate ALL streets (no landlocked homes). This was woefully underachieved by the counties and municipalities during this storm and it was sheer luck that there were few major fires and life-threatening emergencies.

6. The TOTAL inattention to clearing of downed trees was unconscionable. It seems that the state, county, local, JCP&L and Verizon/Comcast authorities were waiting for each other to “blink”. No one was going to remove the trees. Most trees blocking roads in our town were removed by private contractors as a public service (and so that they could reach their prospective job sites). State and County roads and train tracks should be cleared within 24 hours of ANY storm event. The State National Guard and each county should acquire a substantial fleet of generators, trucks, cranes, chippers and equipment to be used in these cases of downed trees and massive power outages. This type of storm will CERTAINLY happen again. The equipment could be rented to towns during normal times.

7. It should be possible to hire and deploy the unemployed workforce without having them forfeit any of their benefits. Union requirements would have to be suspended. They can certainly manage the traffic control signage.

8. Wherever there are power lines running along state highways that are threatened by trees, those power lines should be buried underground….even though the cost of underground lines can be as much as ten times as overhead lines.

9. The JCP&L communications were inadequate for the second time in a year, notwithstanding that the company’s CEO had promised there would be a material improvement following the 2011 Halloween snow storm. In fact, communications were worse following Sandy. One could not reach JCP&L representatives by phone; JCP&L provided no meaningful and useful information to local authorities; the JCP&L/First Energy website provided conflicting and inaccurate information. Customers were left clueless as to what JCP&L was doing to restore THEIR power and when it might occur.

10. All the nation’s electric distribution utilities should be COMPELLED to implement the preventive transformer grounding methods that could protect the transformers from being simultaneously destroyed with no hope of repairing them.

11. There is no designated location to send tree trunks, tree slices, branches and chips. This creates logistics and efficiency problems for those working to remove trees.

12. There is no public plan or process to provide replacement trees even though funding is available.

Bob Graham
84-3 Dryden Road
Bernardsville, NJ 07924
908-766-3608

D Mc Grath November 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Bob very well outlined! Lets see if powers to be take action to correct out failing system.DMcG
Nancy November 19, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Bob you did a wonderful job. Since you did all the work for the Township, hopefully, they can manage the next go around better.
Carol Pena November 20, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Good list of pluses and minuses. One point though: actually for some networks in some locations, cell service was disrupted after the storm. Both of my cell phones (work and personal) are through AT&T, and for 2 days after the storm I had little to no cell signal (occasionally 1 bar would pop up and I could get texts to go through, but could not make or receive calls and could not reach the web on my smart phone). Two days after the storm AT&T made a deal with T-mobile to share cell services until they could each repair their own, and then both cell phones worked again. I spoke to many who had similar experiences with other companies in different areas - it seemed to vary from area to area, but many experienced this. So, to add to the "things to do better" list: cell companies could agree IN ADVANCE to share their networks, so that people sitting in the dark with no power, no TV, no means of communication can at least have functioning cell phones.

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