JCP&L Has Improved Since Irene, Utility President Says

Better communication, more employees just some of what the company has invested $200 million in, according to Don Lynch.

As the anniversary of Irene's unwelcome appearance over the region arrives—and as another storm looms large in the Gulf just seven years after Hurricane Katrina—not many signs of last year's hurricane are still apparent.

At , final repairs are underway to . But . One of the harshest visual icons of the storm, , receded soon after Irene passed.

Another symbol of the storm, , took a little longer. With makeshift redirects of electricity from other locations made to get this area back on, the substation did not return to full power until early 2012.

While JCP&L worked to figure out how to get the lights on for some 250 municipalities, many customers were left in the dark in more ways than one.

Don Lynch, president of JCP&L, said the utility took its performance to heart. "Following Irene, we started working with the BPU (Board of Public Utilities) on communication improvements," he said. "We recognized we had some opportunity following Irene. [It] required a lot of communication."

One of those new procedures, daily calls with elected officials in municipalities affected by power outages, was implemented by October, when . "If we see a storm coming up, we would begin daily conference calls a day or two before," Lynch said.

For municipalities, the press and customers, Lynch noted external communications support has joined the company's external line support for when the regular staff is either unable to serve, or the need is too great for them alone.

JCP&L's outage map has been updated since Irene to mark outages based on a town's tax district, not ZIP Code, a practice that can make a big difference in a place like Morristown, which shares the same ZIP Code as Morris Township. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter also are now used, he said.

Locally in Morristown, the recommendations made by a " following have been implemented, Lynch said. New technicians also have been hired.

In total, Lynch said $200 million has been spent since Irene on infrastructure improvements, with another $200 million expected to be spent over the next several years.

Mayor Tim Dougherty said communication has definitely improved noticeably since last year.

"What a difference a year makes," he said.

There always is room for improvement, the mayor said, but lessons have been learned, not just by JCP&L but by the town's own Office of Emergency Management.

As Issac threatens New Orleans, Dougherty said, "it just goes to show you constantly have to keep prepared for emergencies when it comes to the weather. It could strike at any time."

Lynch acknowledged not everyone is going to be too understanding with their power utility should the lights go out.

"Customers expectations continue to rise. We're all doubling our efforts to meet their expectations," he said. "We're working hard to earn their trust, we're doing everything we can."

Heading into Labor Day Weekend, with no major storms expected for the state, Lynch reflected on where he, his company and the region were just one year ago.

"At times it was difficult for people to understand the broadness of damage across the territory," he said, noting about two-thirds of JCP&L's customers lost power during Irene.

"I hope it's the biggest I'll ever see in my career," he said.


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