South Orange Asks New Jersey to Investigate PSE&G

At issue is the information management systems of the utility.

On October 29, an earlier than usual , leaving without power.  As customers sat in the dark and called PSE&G for assistance, they were told a multitude of things, ranging from “it’ll be fixed by midnight tonight” to “our records show you have power.”

Last night, the South Orange Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution that requests an investigation into PSE&G’s informational management. 

Added to the agenda mid-afternoon on Monday, Resolution 2011-303 requests the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to conduct an investigation of information management by Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) and making certain recommendations in that regard.

Reached over the weekend, Village President Alex Torpey was unhappy with some of the inaccuracies that plagued PSE&G during the storm.

“Each contact at PSE&G that I spoke to over that weekend had different information,” said Torpey.  “When I spoke personally to both of our state assembly-people, their offices were getting similar information which wasn't really accurate.  I spoke to the county, the state legislators and the governor’s office on Friday (after the storm) and they were not happy with the kind of information that we were getting.”

At the meeting, Torpey stressed that they were not trying to claim authority over PSE&G, but rather work with them to improve their communication to government officials.

“Obviously a municipal government has no formal or statutory or legal role whatsoever in the regulation or oversight of a publicly traded state regulated utility company,” said Torpey.  “However, for a lot of people, Village Hall and municipal officials are the first point of contact, especially during such an extreme weather event.”

Torpey was told by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office that they would be looking into the information passed on to South Orange.  However, Torpey feels this resolution stresses the importance of this request by South Orange.

Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, who was one of the residents without power, was unhappy that while PSE&G was asking customers to call their hotline, nobody was actually answering it.

“I would’ve been able to manage the crisis with better communication because this was an unusual event,” said Davis Ford.  “However, when I went to call PSE&G, I got a busy signal.  I couldn’t even get through to get an automated system.  And then four hours later when I did get through and I got an automated voice, it just sent me off the deep end.”

The resolution offers various suggestions to PSE&G to help improve their information services.  Among them is the idea that utilities should provide a spokesperson to stay in a municipal’s main government center to take complaints from customers and to provide information in person to any municipality that has more than 5% of its residents without power.  Another suggestion is that utilities should provide twice daily detailed reports to government officials.

“The motivation behind this isn’t to ask for a better response time, we’re not engineers, we don’t how long it takes to fix a power grid” said Torpey.  “However, anyone who is familiar with emergency management or any sort of event likes this knows that the importance of timely and accurate information is critical.


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