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Hurricane Sandy: Public Service Electric & Gas

March 1, 2013
Superstorm Sandy aka Hurricane Sandy holds the dubious distinction of being the most destructive storm in New Jersey-based PSE&G's 109-year history, impacting

Superstorm Sandy — aka Hurricane Sandy — holds the dubious distinction of being the most destructive storm in New Jersey-based PSE&G's 109-year history, impacting twice as many customers as 2011's Hurricane Irene. In addition to leaving more than 1.9 million of PSE&G's 2.2 million electric customers without power, Sandy's storm surge caused the Hudson, Hackensack and Passaic rivers to overflow their banks, causing unimaginable devastation to numerous switching stations, substations and generating infrastructure.

Fortunately, the utility was prepared, pre-staging 1,300 out-of-state line workers and 600 out-of-state tree contractors, as well as their full complement of in-house personnel. The sheer logistics of housing, feeding, busing and preparing work packets for the external crews challenged the logistics team. At the height of the rebuild, more than 4,000 line workers, substation experts and tree personnel were engaged in restoration.

There were 15 staging areas set up across the state, many in shopping mall parking lots, where crews were dispatched, trucks refueled, supplies restocked and box lunches dispensed. There were 55 hotels and 120 buses required to house and transport the crews brought in to assist with restoration efforts. From within PSE&G, more than 400 employees — from finance, procurement, IT, legal, human resources, corporate strategy and development, and energy holdings — volunteered to distribute water and ice to impacted communities, guard downed wires, and provide directions and logistics assistance for out-of-town crews.

“This was a tremendous team effort,” said Ralph Izzo, PSE&G chairman and CEO. “People from throughout our organization contributed in countless ways to the restoration, working together with great devotion and resourcefulness and, in many cases, under grueling conditions. Many customers have written to express appreciation. These well-deserved commendations have heartened us all.”

In the first three days, PSE&G restored service to more than 1 million customers. At the end of 10 days, the utility had restored power to 96% of its customers. Then the nor'easter struck, causing additional outages. During the two-week restoration period, the utility's customer call centers handled more than 2.1 million calls, with PSE&G performing more than 2.1 million electric service restorations.

“This was no ordinary hurricane,” said LaRossa. “We've dealt with high winds and heavy rain before, but the unprecedented storm surge — and the impact it had on our switching and substations as well as our gas distribution system — was something else entirely. We were essentially dealing with the equivalent of two Hurricane Irenes. Add the snowy nor'easter nine days later, and we certainly had our hands full.”

PSE&G undertook a massive effort to rebuild the 1,282 overhead and underground distribution circuits that had been damaged. Crews replaced or repaired more than 2,400 utility poles and replaced 320 miles (515 km) of conductor. Vegetation crews dealt with 48,000 tree jobs, a record number. In the service territory, crews replaced or repaired 1,022 transformers damaged during the storm. Of the utility's 291 electric substations, 96 were impacted by the storm. Of this total, 29 substations and switching stations were impacted by storm surges.

A large number of substations were impacted by the tidal surge of rivers in northern and central New Jersey. A wall of water — ranging from 4 ft to 8 ft (1.2 m to 2.4 m) high — inundated facilities, including some that had never been submerged in their 50 to 75 years of operation. Damaged equipment had to be dried out and cleaned to get it back in service. This took much painstaking work, making the restoration even more complex.

During the storm, PSE&G operated several mobile customer service centers (CSCs) to lend a hand in communities particularly hard hit. PSE&G volunteers staffed locations in Elizabeth, West Orange, Burlington, Hoboken, Paramus, Plainfield, Moonachie, Jersey City and Newark. The CSCs provided ice, drinking water, food and power strips for recharging devices free of charge to PSE&G customers. The utility was joined at some of these locations by disaster relief groups, including the Red Cross and FEMA. Other community and charitable groups used the mobile CSCs to distribute donations of food, blankets and other emergency supplies.

“Sandy — and the increased frequency of extreme weather events — may now define a new normal,” LaRossa said. “All the conclusions won't emerge in one day. But, it's clear that we will need to continue strengthening our infrastructure to ensure safe, reliable energy for our customers long into the future. Many options need to be examined — from ways to build more redundancy and resiliency into our system, to the use of other two-way communications tools, to revisiting our tree-trimming practices. And this hardly exhausts the list of possible improvements worth exploring.”

For example, even before Sandy struck, PSE&G had purchased land to build a new substation in Newark, but inland, away from nearby waterways. The utility is investing several billion dollars in transmission enhancements to maintain reliability. Other steps include evaluating tree-trimming programs, working with municipal leaders to possibly relocate poles and lines that run through backyards to the curb and determining whether it makes sense to bury some overhead lines to increase reliability.

“Our employees have been a steadying force and reassuring presence in being there to care for people and give them hope that life would return to normal,” Izzo said. “I cannot say enough about our employees who worked tirelessly on behalf of customers, though the storm impacted their own homes and families, too. And, we are so grateful for the assistance from the more than 4,000 workers who came here from across the U.S. and Canada. Thank you for going the extra mile.”

Mutual Aid

A huge, heartfelt thank you to the thousands of out-of-state workers who came to PSE&G's aid, going above and beyond to help with our restoration efforts following Superstorm Sandy. Without their help, we would not have been able to accomplish the monumental task that Mother Nature laid before us. We truly appreciate the hard work of these companies and individuals.

— Ralph LaRossa, president and COO, PSE&G

Arkansas: Entergy

Connecticut: Black & McDonald, McPhee Electric

Florida: Duke, Florida, Fishel Tampa, Florida Power & Light, GRU Gainesville, Irby Construction, OnPower, Sunshine Utilities, Tampa Electric

Georgia: Utilicon

Illinois: Ameren

Indiana: Henkels & McCoy

Kansas: Great Plains Energy, Kansas City Power & Light, Westar Energy

Kentucky: LG&E/Kentucky, Louisville Power

Maryland: East Coast Underground, PEPCO

Minnesota: Minnesota Power

Mississippi: Entergy, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power

Missouri: Ameren, Kiowa

New Jersey: Allan Briteway Electrical Contractors

New Jersey/Pennsylvania: JBL Electric, Matrix SME

New Mexico: Public Service Company of New Mexico

New York: Harlan Electric Co., Welsbach Electric Corp.

North Carolina: Haynes Electric Co.

Ohio: Dayton Power, Duke Energy

Oklahoma: Oklahoma Gas & Electric

Pennsylvania: I.B. Abel, Duquesne, Pennsylvania Power and Light, Riggs Distler

Pennsylvania/Ohio: Pike

Tennessee: Electric Service

Texas: Asplundh Line, CenterPoint Energy, Entergy Texas, Oncor, Power Secure, T&D Solutions

Vermont: Green Power

Virginia: Davis Elliott Co.

West Virginia: American Electric Power

Wisconsin: Wisconsin Public Service

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