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Prioritization Critical for Future Outages, Resident Says

PSE&G representatives discussed storm response at a special meeting in Bridgewater.

For one resident living near Crim Road, it was a lack of prioritization for Bridgewater and Somerset County during Superstorm Sandy that brought her out to a special meeting with PSE&G representatives Wednesday.

"Every day the percentages in other counties were higher, and the work plan did not even have Somerset County on the map until later," said resident Ann Umphenour, who added that she didn't get back power back until Nov. 10. "It's devaluing my property and quality of life because of prioritizing."

Councilman Matthew Moench organized a sit-down with PSE&G representatives, asking them to provide direct information about storm response.

"There was a lot of misinformation and rumors that came out during the storm," he said. "The best way of fixing that is to have a forum for residents who have questions to hear directly from PSE&G."

Eileen Leahey, regional public affairs manager for PSE&G, said Superstorm Sandy was the worst storm in the company's 109-year history.

"But the practice was to get as many people back online as quickly as possible," she said. "We are still doing work to make permanent repairs, and that will probably last several more months."

A total of 1.7 million PSE&G customers were affected in the storm, Leahey said, which was three times the number of those affected in the October 2011 snowstorm.

"We serve more than 200 communities, and they all had significant damage that was unprecedented as a result of the storm," she said.

Joseph De Pinto, with the central division for electronic operations, said the company began preparing for the hurricane Oct. 23.

"We have never had a hurricane hit New Jersey head-on, and preparation went on immediately," he said. "One of the things we were most concerned about was making sure we had sufficient manpower."

De Pinto said there are four substations that serve Bridgewater itself, including the Raritan Valley one and Somerville. But the damage from the storm went far beyond just damaging those substations.

Switching stations were affected, De Pinto said, with entire systems losing power that affected much further up the chain than just the distribution of power to residents.

De Pinto said they lost transmission circuits, which caused switching stations to shut down, and substations to lose power. A total of 51 transmission lines were affected, he said, and PSE&G lost all of its backup power, which transmits information about the status of the different circuits.

"Now we are flying blind when we are trying to assess the damage of the distribution system," he said. "We had more than 105 subtransmission, the supply lines between all the stations, circuits fail. I don't know if you can appreciate the magnitude, but it was intense."

From there, De Pinto said, they had to work from the highest areas, tripping several generating systems off line because of instability, and trying to get them stable to reintroduce energy into the switching stations.

Because of these major issues, De Pinto said, the company had to rely somewhat on residents reporting outages until they could get some of the systems working again.

"We get our intelligence through the equipment when it's working, but we didn't have that," he said. "We had to work circuit by circuit."

Basically, De Pinto said, they were relying on residents calling in to report outages and power lines down so they could determine what areas to work on first, based on how many people were missing power.

"As we go down the pecking order, we want to put the main line of the feeder back up," he said. "We want to get the main line back to get the largest amount of customers back. Decisions of priority is what we are constantly looking at."

Moench emphasized that it is important for residents to call no matter what and report outages.

"I always think they must know I'm out of power, and I don't want to overburden them," he said. "But if residents are out, they should absolutely call."

De Pinto said that is especially important.

"In a storm of such magnitude, give as much information as you can," he said. "Don't patrol circuits, but as best as you can, give us as much information as you have."

De Pinto said that if there are 100 people in an area without power, and 90 of them don't call, the company may not know that there is such a problem, and will instead focus on the areas where there are larger numbers of customers reporting they are without power.

"We need customers calling in because you are our eyes and ears, and you can tell us where damage is," he said.

But Umphenour said she notices that Somerset County, and Bridgewater, seems to always be last in the pecking order. She said she was told by an official with PSE&G that the area is less dense than others, and that is why it is considered last.

"And I spent $1,700 getting a generator on day 10 to give us some electricity, and then it was restored three hours later," she said. "If someone might have told us they would work on Bridgewater, I wouldn't have spent $1,700."

De Pinto said they tried to keep residents informed with goals of when power would be restored. Before the nor'easter that hit one week after the storm, he said, they had projected full restoration by Nov. 9.

"That first Saturday, I never had a feeling like I had that night because I had a legitimate pit in my stomach because I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said, adding that he too was without power for 12 days.

Leahey said they had constant phone calls with township officials throughout their region to discuss the progress they had made, where they would be working and what was coming.

"But [we don't know] until the crews get out and see the severity," she said. "It may take three crews 10 hours, so until the assessment is done, you don't really understand how the repair is going to work."

Still, Umphenour said that in her neighborhood all wires are buried, but a tree on Crim Road fell on power lines, and it wasn't addressed until day eight.

"What's emotional is living with buried power lines, but always being done last," she said. "It devalues my property and my quality of life. You said the reward, you do whatever you can do to get the biggest reward, so we're not densely populated so we'll always be last."

"The township needs to be aware that you restore based on the number of customers, and that we will be prioritized last," she added.

As for the future, De Pinto said PSE&G is investing a lot of money into infrastructure and upgrading transformers.

"We are talking about evaluating and reinforcing where it makes sense," he said. "There are lots of nuances and that will cost."

"We are investing $1.5 billion in the transmission system alone," Leahey added.

Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives from New Jersey Hope and Healing, which works with residents who need to manage the emotional consequences of storms and flooding in their areas.

For more information about the organization, visit the website at disastermentalhealthnj.com.

"I am pleased that we were able to put together a forum to allow residents to hear directly from PSE&G representatives regarding Superstorm Sandy and PSE&G's restoration efforts in Bridgewater," Moench said after the meeting. "PSE&G provided a wealth of information to residents, and we were able to have an open back and forth dialogue with PSE&G to address resident's questions and concerns. I think that the meeting was very productive and informative and I thank PSE&G for their willingness to come to Bridgewater."

"I also want to thank New Jersey Hope & Healing, a non-profit dedicated to providing services and assistance to victims of storms and floods, who were on hand to assist any residents in need," he added.

Ann December 20, 2012 at 07:39 AM
Furthermore, Ms. Leahey with PSE&G said in this meeting the reason 98 percent of Burlington, Mercer, Camden, Gloucester and Hudson counties was restored before us was because they had FEWER residents without power. This, after being told repeatedly by PSE&G officials, including Ms. Leahey previously, that power is restored based on the amount of customers (density actually) in a region. No matter the contradiction, no matter the prioritization, Bridgewater and Somerset County are prioritized last. We will always be prioritized last. We have no advocate. Did you get a discount? Did you get a refund? No. Neither did I. We just get ignored.

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