The planning is underway, but mostly there is “waiting and watching,” said John Sheridan, director of the Hillsborough’s Office of Emergency Management.
The waiting is, of course, for Hurricane Sandy, a potentially historic storm that has meteorologists sputtering for description, with the media settling on “Frankenstorm.”
Forecasts say the storm could be 800-miles wide when it hits New Jersey late Monday and could park over the region for several days. Widespread flooding, high winds and extensive power outages are expected.
By comparison, Hurricane Irene was 500 miles wide.
Sandy would be the second consecutive major storm to hit New Jersey on Halloween, following last year’s snow storm that dumped more than a foot inches of snow on the township.
That storm left the township relatively unscathed, officials said at the time, though hundreds of homes lost power.
One Sandy related cancellation has been posted already: The Hillsborough/Montgomery Municipal Court sessions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday have been cancelled, according to a notice on the Hillsborough Township website.
Sheridan said Sandy has the possibility of being more like Hurricane Irene, the August 2011 storm that left wide spreading flooding in its wake and sent several families into emergency shelters. The township inspected more than 45 homes for damage following the Irene-related floods.
Especially hard hit were streets near the confluence of the Raritan and Millstone rivers in the northeast portion of the township, those near smaller brooks, and areas in the floodplains of the Neshanic and the South Branch of the Raritan rivers in the southwest section of Hillsborough.
By the time the Millstone and Raritan collided in Manville during Irene, the Raritan had peaked 41 feet and the Millstone at 21 feet.
Sheridan said lessons learned from those storms will be applied to the township’s response to Sandy.
“Early preparation is taking place,” he said. “We learned a lot from last year.”
The response includes close communication with state and county officials and between township departments, Sheridan said.
Planning discussions have already taken place with the state and county officials, he said.
The other key, he said, is improvements in systems that allow residents to get information from the township, including emergency telephones, the township’s website and the by using the Nixle information system which sends alerts to residents’ smart phones, if residents have signed up, and broadcasts over radio station 1610.
This storm will be a test of the power utilities that serve the township, Sheridan said.
Both JCP&L and PSE&G were sharply criticized for the number and length of outages after the 2011 storms, and each company promised a series of steps to improve service.
The power companies added features to their Facebook pages, added Twitter accounts, and links for reporting outages their websites.
The companies also began extensive tree-trimming operations aimed at reducing the impact of falling limbs–a major contributor to last year’s power outages–and began repairs to the damaged electric systems.
On Friday, JCP&L in a press release from First Energy Corp., its parent company, said there is the chance power outages could last seven to 10 days.
"While it appears that New Jersey has the potential to be the hardest-hit area, this massive weather event has the potential to cause damage across a large portion of First Energy's service territory," said Brian Kolts, a First Energy meteorologist, in the press release.
JCP&L said it has 700 First Energy personnel secured for storm recovery work, as well as 500 to 600 electrical contractors and 1,000 tree contractors.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state's largest utility, said it has requested 1,300 linemen and 600 tree contractors from utilities in other states to help out if the storm hits.
PSE&G said is taking the following steps:
- Ensuring that all available personnel are ready to respond beginning this weekend.
- Arranging for contractors, including tree crews, to assist the utility’s own skilled workforce.
- Ensuring that additional supplies, such as poles, transformers and other pole-top equipment, are on hand.
- Ensuring that all vehicles are fueled and ready to go.
- Testing generators at utility locations.
- Checking locations for potential flooding and taking precautions, such as using sandbags to help divert water from substation equipment
- Coordinating with county OEMs to keep them updated on outages and restoration efforts.
PSE&G contact information:
To report downed wires or power outages, customers should call PSE&G’s Customer Service line at 1-800-436-PSEG. PSE&G uses an automated system to handle customer calls as efficiently as possible. Customers who get an automated response when calling PSE&G are encouraged to use it, as it is designed to route their calls to the right destination quickly. The system also provides the option to speak directly to a customer service representative. If you have specific information regarding damage to wires, transformers or poles, we ask that you speak with a representative to provide that information.
Customers with a handheld device, or who are at an alternate location with power, can also report power outages and view the status of their outage by logging in to My Account at pseg.com. General outage activity throughout our service territory is available online at www.pseg.com/outagecenter and updates are posted on pseg.com during severe weather.
In addition, if outages are widespread, the utility will activate its Twitter page to keep the public informed about our restoration progress. Sign up as a follower at http://twitter.com/psegdelivers to monitor restoration progress.
JCP&L contact information:
Customers who are without power should call 1-888-LIGHTSS (1-888-544-4877) to report their outage or click the "Report Outage" link on www.firstenergycorp.com via smartphone.
For updated information on the company's storm preparation efforts, current outages, FirstEnergy's storm restoration process and tips for staying safe, customers are urged to visit the 24/7 Power Center at www.firstenergycorp.com/outages. The operating companies will also provide updates via Twitter at JCP&L: @JCP_L
Experts recommend homeowners secure the following emergency supplies:
- Keep a flashlight and extra batteries handy. Use care when burning candles; open flames are a fire hazard.
- Gather extra blankets or a sleeping bag for each person. Do not use gas stoves, kerosene heaters or other open-flame heat sources to prevent deadly carbon monoxide gas from building up in your home.
- If you have a water well and pump, keep an emergency supply of bottled water and/or fill your bathtub with fresh water.
- Stock an emergency supply of convenience foods that do not require cooking.
- Keep a battery-powered radio with extra batteries on hand. Tune in to a local radio station for current storm information.
- Have a hard-wired telephone or a charged cell phone handy in the event you need to report your electricity is out.
- Mobile phones can be charged in your vehicle using a car charger when power is out.
- If you have a smart phone, this will ensure you have access to online information sources.
Hillsborough emergency information:
- Police Emergency: 9-1-1
- Police non-emergency: 908-369-4323
- Township website:http://www.hillsborough-nj.org
- To Register For Nixle: Go to www.nixle.com; Click "Register Now;" create an account by choosing a User Name and Password; enter an email address and cell phone number where you would like to receive messages; enter your address (or a nearby intersection); click "Sign Me Up."