BERNARDS TWP., NJ - JCP&L has improved both its communication with municipalities and customers, and also its response to outages, since Superstorm Sandy plunged the entire township into darkness in 2012 and left residents wondering what help, if any, was on the way from the power company, Bernards Township Mayor John Carpenter said after hearing a JCP&L presentation this past week.

"I think the company has improved its responsiveness," Carpenter said after hearing the presentation before the Township Committee, even while allowing that there may still be "room for improvement."

The company made a number of changes to its procedures and policies following Sandy, including increased trimming of tree limbs and other vegetation hanging over wires; setting up an improved website to track outages; and setting new priorities for its repair crews, Robert G. Walton, area manager of external affairs for Jersey Central Power & Light, said during his presentation.

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Among those changed priorities, Walton said, was that JCP&L now dispatches staff members first to test and remove downed wires that have forced road closures before working on power restoration for customers.

Walton said that shift in priority was based on feedback from offices of emergency management throughout the state of New Jersey following Sandy, when many roads were impassable to emergency responders. Downed wires can also still be carrying electricity, sometimes even as a result of certain private generators that send electricity back into the street and re-electrify previously dead wires.

"Life and limb emergencies" are top priorities, followed by road openings and restoration of power for critical facilities such as hospitals before the company begins working on general power restoration, Walton said.

"We understand people's frustration," Walton said. However, "We have a process to follow." Ice and water is made available to customers in outages lasting longer than 24 hours, he said.

As before, customers should continue to report power outages, Walton said. A new mobile application that can be downloaded by customers "makes it easy for you to communicate with us," he added.

Residents can also call 1-888-544-4877 to report outages.

March ice storm changed 'scope'

Some Bernards residents were left without power for many days following an ice storm in early March, for which Walton said the predicted scope of the storm had changed. The widespread nature of the ice storm also made it difficult to call in crews from other areas, because they were responding to deal with their own outages, he said.

Walton noted that people may be unaware that about half of the utility poles in the township belong to Verizon, which he said has sometimes presented challenges in working on transmission wires and distributors.

Also since Sandy, Walton's report said that JCP&L has:

■ Replaced nearly 51 miles of wire 
■ Replaced more than 750 poles 
■ Cleared trees at more than 5,400 locations 
■ Opened more than 2,300 roads closed by downed trees and wires
■ Used helicopters and aerial drones to conduct inspections of JCP&L’s transmission and distribution systems, especially in hard to access areas

The presentation is posted online.

Carpenter said afterwards that he had found the presentation interesting, particularly information on the power company's distribution system.

He said Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi had invited JCP&L to give an update.