During the year following Hurricane Irene, Jersey Central Power & Light has re-focused its approach to major storms to meet customer and community expectations, while continuing to upgrade and maintain the company's electric system to improve reliability and meet the growing demand for electricity.
"Our customers have expectations for their service and to meet them we must continuously improve," said Holly C. Kauffman, vice president of Operations at JCP&L. "After the hurricane, we listened to our customers and launched several initiatives to provide better information during emergencies. The process is working well."
In the week leading up to the Aug. 28, 2011 storm, JCP&L stationed crews in strategic locations for emergency response and launched its storm plans to coordinate with emergency management offices. The storm, with extensive flooding and wind damage, knocked out power to 750,000 of JCP&L's 1.1 million customers.
During the restoration effort, more than 1,300 JCP&L employees joined by an equal number of FirstEnergy staff and line crews worked in 16-hour shifts, day and night, for eight days until all service was restored. They were supplemented by 2,100 workers from other utility companies. Line repair crews and tree removal crews came from Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
As a result of the hurricane, seven JCP&L substations were under water, 21,000 wires were down, and 47 miles of wire and 360 poles needed replacement. At the time, it was the most damaging storm in the company's history, and JCP&L responded with an unprecedented mobilization of workers and materials. But five weeks later, the October 2011 snowstorm produced even more damage.
"Hurricane Irene tested our customers and our communities and all the employees of JCP&L," Kauffman continued. "Our employees are truly committed to our customers. Many left their own damaged homes and communities to respond and restore power to our customers. Massive flooding, blocked roads, uprooted multi-story trees and thousands of downed wires required extraordinary actions and ingenuity. It was a massive effort and our people found efficient solutions to restore power as quickly as possible."
Starting with the October snowstorm, JCP&L began holding daily conference calls with mayors during long-term restoration efforts to inform local officials about restoration progress and receive feedback about local priorities. Now, local governmental affairs representatives are brought in from other FirstEnergy utilities to assist in the day-to-day contacts with mayors and other local officials before a major storm.
For customers, JCP&L has started using Twitter and Facebook, which will help distribute restoration information during a major storm. The smartphone-compatible 24/7 Power Center, which launched this spring, shows outages by municipal border and provides information on where to find free ice and water during major storms. JCP&L will soon offer restoration updates through instant messaging and email.
JCP&L this year announced programs to upgrade the reliability of the electric system while expanding for the future, including:
- $200 million in reliability project upgrades, including new substations, circuit upgrades and maintenance.
- Hiring 36 new linemen.
- Aggressive tree trimming to remove potential threats to reliability.
- New laptops in fleet trucks to improve speed and coordination of emergency repairs and maintenance.
- Continuation of the five-year program to expand JCP&L's transmission network, to add redundancy and increase the capacity of the system.
So far, JCP&L has completed more than half of the 40 circuit upgrades scheduled for this year. These projects help to improve reliability through all 236 municipalities across the JCP&L system.
"Every emergency is different. But we have upgraded our system to reduce the likelihood and duration of outages to meet the expectations of our customers," Kauffman concluded.