SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many towns are asking for accountability from utility companies that some feel failed to provide accurate and timely information not only to customers, but also to local governments and emergency personnel.
On Monday night, the South Orange Board of Trustees unanimously voted to send a strong message to the Village’s electricity provider - Public Service Electric & Gas - and to State Officials in Trenton that legislative steps need to be taken to remedy the problems that occurred over the past two weeks.
"The failure of communication, information management and emergency preparedness on the part of PSE&G as a whole is unacceptable" said Village President Alex Torpey who is not only the Village’s Mayor, but also Office of Emergency Management Coordinator. "The most frustrating part is that we brought up many of these concerns last year after the snowstorm and Hurricane Irene, and we have not seen adequate progress on making the changes needed. That means it's time for a legislative fix, I think that’s the only way we’re going to see progress.
The Resolution sent the recommendation to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey Legislature, Governor's Office, and White House Office of Intergovernmental affairs, among others, to ask the Legislature and BPU to conduct an investigation into how PSE&G manages information, communicates, prepares for and responds to extreme power outages. The Resolution further asks the New Jersey Legislature to compel PSE&G, and all public utility companies, through legislative action to adopt the recommendations resulting from this investigation.
South Orange Trustee Howard Levison noted the significant implications of these failures by PSE&G for other necessary repairs, "PSEG was a critical path to many of our critical infrastructure components, from re-lighting our gaslamps to replacing poles so that our communication providers – Verizon and Cablevision - could begin their repair efforts."
Many other towns felt similar frustration and, since Monday, have asked for copies of South Orange's resolution for consideration and possible adoption by their governing bodies. Mayor Vic DeLuca of Maplewood acknowledged that PSE&G's system "is broken" and that he was "getting more information from people from Texas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania than from PSE&G." Mayor DeLuca plans to ask the Maplewood Township Committee next week to consider passing a sister resolution. As legislators across the state start considering bills to address some of the changes and related storm preparedness issues, village officials have begun to work with representatives of their 27th legislative district to find state-wide solutions and expressed that they hope to continue to pass -and urge others to pass - resolutions showing their community's support for new measures being considered at the state level.
Most homes in South Orange were without power for more than one week, and power did not get fully restored until 13 days after Hurricane Sandy. The Village believes that some of the delays were caused by repair tickets being closed out because homes were misreported as already having power restored when it had not been and mismanagement of how jobs were assigned to out of state workers. These shortcomings, and the lack of clear information provided to government officials, prevented people from planning and preparing for where they would stay during the cold, powerless nights. Additionally, Village officials are concerned that required pole and line maintenance, and proper trimming of trees around power lines has not taken place, and expect that to be incorporated into an updated emergency preparedness plan.
Village officials noted that although South Orange was relatively fortunate to have been spared the devastation suffered by some other communities, they are concerned that without advocacy for legislative fixes, those communities won’t get the relief they need and proper procedures won't be put into place to prevent this from happening again.