Mayors focus on emergency response

Group speaks to
JCP&L about response
to Aug. 2 storm

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

Group speaks to
JCP&L about response

to Aug. 2 storm

By Sherry conohan

Staff Writer

LITTLE SILVER — Monmouth Beach has its own AM radio station for broadcasting emergency information. Shrewsbury has a 732 number devoted exclusively to providing taped messages in times of emergencies.

Sea Bright and Oceanport would like to piggyback on Monmouth Beach’s radio station to deliver emergency news to its residents, while Eatontown turns to the 800 number it uses as a bulletin board for meeting dates and community events for getting out important news in times of emergency.

The means of reaching their constituents to disseminate information of an emergent nature was spelled out by the leaders of area communities at the meeting of the Two Rivers Council of Mayors on Sept. 21.

They exchanged the information as they heard from Jersey Central Power & Light officials about the company’s response to the devastating thunderstorm on Aug. 2 that blew down trees, snapped utility poles and downed wires.

Donald M. Lynch, JCP&L’s regional president for central New Jersey, reported than an estimated 180,000 of its customers were left without power.

JCP&L serves 590,000 customers in five counties — Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Mercer and Burlington.

"It was the storm of the decade," Lynch said. "The last one was in 1992."

The latter was a reference to the nor’easter of Dec. 11, 1992.

The damage from the Aug. 2 storm was so bad that the repairs could not be considered a restoration process, but a rebuilding process, he said.

"It was unbelievable the damage we had," he said.

Lynch said an early goal was to get power back on at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, before the running of the Haskell race featuring War Emblem on Sunday, Aug. 4, two days after the storm struck.

"We didn’t want the networks to open up their national broadcast with the lights out at Monmouth Park," he told the mayors with a smile. "At 10 a.m. Sunday, we restored power to Monmouth Park."

Eatontown Mayor Gerald J. Tarantolo observed that some people living close to Monmouth Park still had their power after the storm, but lost it later. He asked if the electric company had sacrificed them to get the racetrack back online.

"We would never do that," Lynch replied, and attributed the residents’ later loss of power to secondary effects of the storm, when tree limbs that were loosened by the high winds fell to the ground or hit transformers hours or days later.

Ken Warren, an engineer with the state Board of Public Utilities who attended the meeting, said from the audience that 70 percent of outages are from trees. But, he said, homeowners don’t want their trees trimmed.

If Monmouth Park was brought back early on, Rumson came back late.

"Rumson tends to be last," Lynch said, because of the backyard connections. "It’s very difficult. We have to ask permission to go onto people’s properties. All the people in Rumson are very cooperative."

Lynch said JCP&L, which merged with FirstEnergy in November 2001, called in electrical crews from anywhere in New Jersey it could find them and from other FirstEnergy companies in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the other states it serves. He said few crews were available in New Jersey because they were dealing with the power outages in their own home areas from the storm.

Fortunately, Lynch said, he had kept 22 crews on duty the evening of Aug. 2 because the area was having "a heat event," so they were immediately available. He said the company also began calling in crews that had been off duty, but noted it was Friday night and if anyone had had anything alcoholic to drink, they weren’t allowed to work on lines for eight hours.

There were 4,000 lightning strikes in two hours during the storm, Lynch noted. "Anyone outside could see the light show," he said.

Lynch said JCP&L has about 100 crews in Central Jersey, and most were on the job at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. He said they worked 12-hour shifts, mostly during the day, because the company has found that longer shifts are neither safe nor productive, and they can’t get a lot done at night.

Tarantolo said he had gotten an anonymous call telling him that JCP&L had done a lot of downsizing in the last few years and asked if this was true.

Lynch said that in 1992 and 1994 the company offered early retirement packages but none since. He said the number of crews has remained unchanged but, he said, they have been reduced from three men to two men.

"We have found that two-man crews are just as effective," he said.

Lynch said JCP&L had had some "heavy" retirements this year and currently is down "a dozen or so" linemen.

The anonymous phone call, he speculated, came from an employee disgruntled by a company push for more productivity, coming from FirstEnergy. He said with FirstEnergy there is much more supervision.

"If 200 linemen are putting in an extra hour, two hours, a day, we get a whole lot more done," he said. "They need to put in more wrench time."

Oceanport Mayor Gordon Gemma said he knew the electric utility was a repository of information on people with medical needs and asked if the company would share the names of those people with the municipalities.

"We would like to know who have medically dependent needs so that our emergency people can go out to help them," he said.

Lynch replied he would be "very uncomfortable with that" and said nowhere is it written that JCP&L would have to release those names.

Gemma pressed him, saying "I want to know today," and added that he understood the company’s concern for liability. But he wanted to know.

"It is not my understanding that we would release that list," Lynch said.

Shrewsbury Mayor Emilia Siciliano said her borough asks people with medical needs to register with the First Aid Squad. Gemma said his borough does the same thing, but he views the electric company as another source.

"I know there’s always going to be omissions," he said. "In light of the 9/11 tragedy this past year, we’re trying to update our records, and I had hoped the utility would be part of that process."

Lynch said he didn’t know if people on life-support system would want to share that information with the municipalities. He said someone may want to keep it private that they’re on dialysis.

Red Bank Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. said his borough has a lot of senior citizens and has the same problem. But he said they don’t want to leave home.

"In Red Bank, I went to at least 15 homes" of medically dependent people, he related. "They would complain, but when I offered shelter, they said no.

"People are reluctant to leave their homes," he said.

Gemma volunteered the information that Monmouth Beach has its own AM radio station for emergency transmissions. It’s 1640 on the dial. He said Oceanport is working with Monmouth Beach to share its radio band.

Sea Bright Mayor Gregory Harquail said that borough also is looking to Monmouth Beach and is working with Rumson, too, on the possibility of going in on a radio band. He noted the radio station broadcasts over a three-mile radius and costs nearly $17,000 to $20,000 plus $300 for a license.

Siciliano said her town has an area code 732 emergency number which it sends out on easily identifiable yellow sheets of paper to residents. She said it’s only used for emergency messages and can handle several calls at the same time. The number for the Shrewsbury emergency information telephone line is (732) 741-3825.

Tarantolo said his borough has an 800 number. That telephone line, which is used for carrying messages about meeting times and community events but is employed for emergency information when needed, is (800) 861-5515.