JCP&L executed a brilliant PR tactic as Hurricane Sandy approached New Jersey. Even before the storm hit, and before they could possibly know the extent of outages, JCP&L announced that “it will take 7-10 days to bring power back.”
How’d they know that? Simple: They didn’t.
It was a brilliant public relations gambit. To ward off public and government pressure, JCP&L preemptively set the expectation low — then failed to meet it. The media and government swallowed the line, and by the time anyone realized that absolutely nothing had changed in JCP&L’s disaster plans, we were well into the “7-10 days.”
The problem is not “communications”
The consultant that JCP&L paid for this bit of “communications” chicanery earned their money. But now what’s clear is that government and the media have gotten sucked into the idea that “the problem is communications.”
The problem is inability to effectively respond to a major disaster
“Better communication” is a bullshit proposition in a disaster.
Even Governor Christie has been regurgitating JCP&L’s line about “communications” being better. But the only improvement in communications is that initial line about “7-10 days.” It was a fraud. JCP&L did nothing to provide better or more accurate information day by day, much less hour by hour.
New Jersey residents should deluge the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities with complaints. JCP&L is a power and logistics operation, and their logistics ability was demonstrated to be virtually non-existent.
Road crews were driving up roads blocked by downed trees and power lines — and turning around to leave. When crews were questioned, they said they didn’t know the roads were blocked, and that they were in fact on their way to another site. What a complete waste of much-needed resources and time.
Out-of-state crews with no work orders
Residents chatted with out-of-state line workers at local eateries — and were told the crews were waiting for work orders. The out-of-town workers were mystified that they had come so far to handle an emergency — only to be left waiting around with nothing to do while residents suffered without power.
JCP&L road crews with no work orders
Mayor Mark Desire of High Bridge reportedly authorized his police to stop all JCP&L crews driving through his town — and to ask them for their work orders. Drivers reported they had none. They were driving around with nothing to do, waiting for orders. (Mayor Desire reported this during the daily “update call” between mayors, Governor Christie, and JCP&L officials.) Every mayor should have ordered local police to do the same.
Inadequate parts inventory
Lack of parts at JCP&L has left residents without power still — estimates for resumption are no longer “7-10 days.” Lack of replacement transformers is leaving our neighbors in the dark and in the cold. Where is the inventory? JCP&L had plenty of time to warn us about the “7-10 days,” but had no time since Hurricane and the Halloween storm of 2011 Irene to stock up?
The bullshit gets deeper — big schools without power 11+ days
Readington Township’s two largest schools are still without power 11 days after Sandy hit — with no projected restoration date.
According to a Hunterdon Democrat report:
“JCP&L has really blown it,” school board President David Livingston said today, Nov. 8… Livingston said that JCP&L has told township officials that the problem is a substation on Ridge Road where the circuits were ‘destroyed or badly damaged.'”
“JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said this afternoon, ‘There is no issue with the substation or parts. The curcuits that serve the schools are still being worked on,’ including ‘line work along the way.'”
We’ll translate Morano’s public relations doubletalk: “Anything we tell you is complete and utter bullshit. We don’t have parts, we were unprepared, and we have no idea when power will be restored.”
JCP&L had no plan for necessary resources
President Obama and Governor Christie took over logistics for JCP&L last week. (Nice backup if you can get it. Imagine Microsoft or Apple getting technical support via the White House when they “run out.”) Obama and Christie called up work crews from as far away as Los Angeles — and flew them in on military transport planes. Where was JCP&L’s “preparedness?”
Logistics? What’s that?
You can order a music CD on Amazon and 4 hours later you can track its whereabouts by the hour until it gets to your house. JCP&L doesn’t know where its trucks are, or which lines are being repaired, or where a truck is going next?
Calls to JCP&L during the aftermath revealed one thing: The “operators” were doing nothing but repeating the press releases of the day. They said they were not provided with information about where repair trucks were, or which roads were due for repair next, or how long it would take.
That’s not communications. That’s bullshit public relations. And it sure as hell isn’t a disaster plan.
What can you do? Lean on your government leaders.
Press your municipal and county government officials to lead the effort to shut JCP&L down in NJ. There are competitors ready to step in. Create a rigorous review process that requires hard proof a power company can actually handle a situation like Sandy, and select the best. Include penalties it the agreement. We’ll get a better power vendor.
Anything less is excuses — poor management, and poor leadership.
Some of the excuses we’ve heard and read so far from officials are inexcusable — many officials are merely covering up for one of the most powerful companies in the state. Wonder why?
It’s quite a coincidence that New Jersey suffered three massive power outages due to storms in two years — two of them at exactly the same time of year.
It’s no coincidence that JCP&L was no better prepared this year than last year. The company simply isn’t in the business of delivering and managing New Jersey’s power needs. It’s time to pull the plug on JCP&L — but government officials won’t do it if residents go back about their business and wait for the next “7-10 day” outage.
File your complaint. Then attend your next municipal government meeting, and your next county freeholder meeting, and demand that your elected officials lead the charge to pull the plug on JCP&L. It’s their job. Or is their job “better communication,” too?
We should demand action, not public relations gambits.
Thousands of New Jersey residents who are JCP&L customers still don’t have power. They’re freezing their asses off. And JCP&L has no plan for a better response next time. And no one is holding the company to account. It will happen again.