Nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy pummeled through the Northeast, the frustration about the communication from state officials and power companies in the storm aftermath is still a major discussion among members of the public.
The quality and accuracy of the information flow was the key subject brought up at the Board of Public Utilities third public hearing at Hopatcong Middle School Tuesday night.
More than 60 people, including local officials and residents from Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties, attended the meeting where over a dozen people commented and raised concerns to BPU and JCP&L officials about the state's preparedness and response after the storm that left millions across the state without power for days and some for weeks.
Several mayors said the power company provided false restoration numbers, which angered the residents in their municipalities in a time when they needed comfort most.
Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo told officials that residents wanted to get frequent updates on when the power was coming back, where crews were in town, and how many crews were working, but she couldn't receive any of that information from JCP&L. She added that the false restoration numbers, including the Sunday after the storm when a JCP&L representative , but were never restored, was a major issue.
She suggested having a JCP&L supervisor call the OEM director every morning to provide updates about the crews' daily work routines.
"Then we would have information to give out that would be current and it would be real," Petillo said. "Other than that we can not get the information from the managers that are assigned."
Frankford Mayor Gary Larson, who received an applause after he spoke, said the restoration charts given from the power company kept showing inaccuracies and added to the frustration during the outage.
"I don't understand why you would put those numbers up there," he told the officials. "We had residents coming in and asking us questions and there was very little we could give them."
Other residents who spoke agreed with officials, including Kim Armstrong, of Roxbury.
"I would ask the BPU to seriously consider appointing person to have that information in town so everyone is talking on same page," she said.
Hopatcong resident Carolyn Albanese suggested having JCP&L post updates on social media where crews are working in town, simliar to how she said the Hopatcong Police posted on their Facebook page whenever they saw crews on streets.
BPU president Robert Hanna said in his opening statements that the communication has been by far the biggest public complaint. He said while there were several methods of communication implemented after Hurricane Irene, including having more representatives in the town, greater use of social media, and creating the outage maps, he doesn't believe it was the forms of communication that was the problem, and instead the accuracy.
"The method is not the issue, he said. "There are plenty of methods in this day in age to get information. The problem really was the quality of information getting out there to the public. Many, many complaints of the information posted was inaccurate and incorrect information was given out."
He said while the utility companies can not generate street by street information, he said the companies "have to do a far better job in terms of the quality of information they provide to the public so that people at least can make an intelligent decision about whether they can stay in their homes or not."
JCP&L president Don Lynch said the power company is working to provide more accurate information regarding outages and restoration times.
"While no other utility in the country can currently do that down to the customer level, I am committed to work with the BPU to figure out how we can do that, how can we provide more specific information."
Lynch added that JCP&L is also currently working on a number of other steps to improve communication, including expanding communication channels in texting, emails and other alerts, and making enhancements to the power maps.
Lynch, who said the storm resulted in the largest restoration effort in the history of New Jersey, said nearly all JCP&L customers were effected by the storm with 1.3 million outages in all 236 municipalities.
"The damage that resulted from this storm was more damage than Hurricane Irene plus the snowstorm that hit us last October," he said.
Hanna said there were over 17,000 out-of-state workers that helped restore the power, which was the largest utility workforce ever mobilized in New Jersey.
He added that 71 percent of all New Jersey electrical distribution circuits were damaged from the storm. He said 116,000 trees came down, where over 64,000 of those were in JCP&L territory. There were over 6,700 JCP&L utility poles that came down as well, he said, which is the most of the four electrical companies in the state.
"We are looking at all aspects of preparation and response by the electric utilities in the hopes that we can make this better," Hanna said.
Some of the other issues brought up Tuesday night in the two-and-a-half hour meeting were about the downed wires and trees that remained on the ground for days.
"The biggest issue that I had was that every major way in and out of this town, particularly Lakeside Bouelvard, remained block by downed trees for about a week," Hopatcong resident Andrew Dick said. "Please consider whether the town and county employees could be trained to work in areas where there are downed wires to safely secure wires to get roads open."
Hanna said all comments will be reviewed by state officials to improve the infrastructure.
"We will consider all comments in our proceedings in actions that we take," he said.
More meetings will be scheduled after the new year.
Residents can also submit written comments via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: Kristi Izzo, Secretary of the Board, Board of Public Utilities, 44 South Clinton Ave., 9th Floor, P.O. Box 350, Trenton, NJ 08625-0350.
The written comments should reference Docket Number EO12111050 in the subeject of the emails, or in the heading of a letter.