Wow! JCP&L actually owned up to this common NJ failure
Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due. And in the case of New Jersey electric giant JCP&L, that credit is warranted.
Now it should be noted that this particular failure has nothing to do with the brave men and women who work and respond to emergencies. Those on the ground not only have a hard job but a dangerous one at that.
So if you're one of those who drive the trucks and fix the lines, we can't thank you enough. Whether in extreme heat waves or dangerous cold snaps, you're constantly repairing the grid to keep it working.
Unfortunately, some may blame the utility workers when the power doesn't come back on fast enough. We expect reliability and fast service regardless of who the power company is.
Sometimes, however, the damage to lines is far more extensive than initially thought. When that happens, restoration times usually take much longer than expected to be repaired.
And this long wait time we often experience ties into the common complaint many have with our utility companies. This also includes JCP&L, which is the company behind this particular incident.
As many of us know, New Jersey experienced a dangerous cold snap leading into the 2022 Christmas weekend. Temperatures remained below freezing for many days with low temps bottoming out in the danger zone.
The wind was also blowing keeping the wind chill way below zero. For those stuck in those conditions, it was downright dangerous.
Unfortunately, there was a region in Monmouth County that experienced an outage two days before Christmas. The power went out just after 4 p.m. on December 23 and remained out into the evening.
I live in the region that got affected so I was able to get text alerts of what was happening. Although this is a great service JCP&L provides, it's also one of the sources of this common issue.
Here's the first text I received, which came shortly after the power went out. I'll admit, this was a pretty prompt response considering the power recently went out.
The text arrived at 4:10 p.m. on December 23. As mentioned earlier, it was very cold outside and temperatures were continuing to drop toward the single digits.
Restoration time was to occur around 6 p.m. and crews have been dispatched. Not the best situation considering the temps, but at least it would only be about two hours tops.
Well, 6 p.m. came and went with no update whatsoever. And temperatures were dropping fast, as forecasted.
The wind was on the stronger side that night so the natural assumption was that perhaps a pole came down. Or maybe a tree across the power lines?
So it kept getting later and later with no power and plummetting temps. Then finally, we get another text update.
The alert came at 10:36 p.m., more than 4 1/2 hours after the initial restoration time. Now the restoration time jumped to 12 midnight.
Power at this point has been out for around 6 1/2 hours, and the house was beginning to get cold. But did you happen to notice what else changed in that alert?
Crew status that was initially listed as "dispatched" has now changed to "awaiting dispatch." To put it more plainly, no crews have arrived in the area yet to try and resolve the issue.
So far, these alerts have been nothing but inaccurate since the power went out. We were still in the afternoon when the lights first went dark, and now here we are with the moon shining bright.
Being it looked like we were rolling well into the night with no power, we decided to bring out and fire up our generator. It was so cold out that it didn't want to start at first, but we eventually got it going.
We invested in getting a generator because of past experiences with long power outages. We're fortunate to have one as we know many others might not be so lucky.
And on a dangerously cold night like the one we had, even having the ability to hook up a space heater made somewhat of a difference keeping it a bit warmer inside.
Then the next alert text arrives. Restoration has been pushed back yet again for two more hours.
I think you're starting to see the pattern here. Not a single restoration time has been correct and thus giving false hope of when it will come back.
And also, notice the crew status. How is it that it's still awaiting dispatch? The power's been out for around 8 hours now and yet no crew has arrived.
Now we were in contact with some of our neighbors who were receiving the same info. Even some of the elected officials in the area were getting inaccurate information as to when things might be restored.
To make matters worse, we found out that there weren't widespread outages around the area. It was more of an isolated incident.
Now could it be possible that crews were tied up at other sites? It's very plausible, especially considering the weather. But these inaccurate text alerts have been a problem before.
If crews were delayed coming on-site, shouldn't the text alerts at least indicate that? Instead, they kept saying power would be restored within a couple of hours.
The next alert comes at 1:54 a.m. Now we're looking at power remaining out throughout at least very early morning.
Should we believe it'll be back on by 4 a.m.? Should we expect crews to finally arrive on-site? Would our homes finally start to get warm again?
With how this was unfolding, I don't think anybody thought to believe this. The outage just seemed like it would drag on.
And, as predicted, it never came back at 4 a.m. Instead, the next alert arrived.
Power at this point has been out for about 12 hours. That's a power outage where crews still apparently haven't arrived going through the night with dangerously cold conditions.
And homes were getting very cold as well. Our house, for example, was around 47 degrees at this point.
Many of our neighbor's homes weren't doing much better either. Unless the full heat was hooked up to a generator or a home had a fireplace going, this wasn't good at all.
And what if someone had a medical condition or needed the heat and power on for their own health? These alerts were doing nothing but give false hope, and homeowners could've planned to be somewhere safe and warm had they known it might take this long.
The sun was now officially up and we still had no power. Now that the morning light had arrived, I wanted to go out and try to see what the problem was.
What could it be that was so bad that crews couldn't tend to? Did crews arrive and realize it was a bigger problem than they initially thought?
I eventually found the problem, and it's what people were saying on some of the local social media groups. It was a tree that came down and it was lying across the power lines.
Here's what's really sad about this one. According to neighbors who lived on this stretch, not a single crew was seen coming out to investigate.
Fortunately, there were no downed poles or wires, which was great news considering. It meant that any damage that did occur should be minimal and power would hopefully be restored quickly once crews arrive.
Crews did eventually arrive after 9 a.m. to assess the situation, which was a very welcomed site for those living in the affected areas.
But they couldn't work right away. Apparently, the long delay now would be waiting for a tree company to come to remove the fallen tree.
Then finally, after 19 hours during one of New Jersey's coldest holiday seasons in years, power was restored. It came back on a little after 12 noon with a confirmation alert to arrive shortly afterward.
After this incident, many of the people living in the area wanted to complain to JCP&L. But not because of the outage occurring during the brutal cold, or the 19 hours it took to come back on.
Although those are valid reasons to be upset, the true complaint had to do with an alert system that's completely flawed. This outage, coinciding with the coldest air of the season and affecting the start of Christmas, was enough to push people past their tipping points.
Now, about two weeks after that 19-hour outage, I received a phone call from JCP&L. I couldn't answer the call at the time because the call came in as I was picking my kids up from school.
But the voicemail is what surprised me, and, was totally unexpected. It was an actual person who left a voicemail essentially admitting that their alert system is broken.
The person stated that they'd be working on making the alerts more accurate with the restoration times and crew statuses and kept apologizing for the inaccurate information.
I was shocked by that voicemail. Never would I ever expect JCP&L to own up to this major problem with their alert system. But they did, and they deserve credit for doing so.
The person also admitted that it was the weather conditions that night that prevented crews from getting out there, which I also appreciated. Transparency goes a long way, and if only their alerts would've provided more accurate information, perhaps those living in affected areas wouldn't have been so upset.
Lives could be in danger when temperatures are that extreme, and an alert telling us power might be out through the following afternoon certainly would've been better than giving false hope every couple of hours.
And it wasn't just their text alerts that were problematic. Some of the neighbors also had a hard time trying to get accurate updates via phone calls.
Yes, their crews need to be safe too. Under no circumstances should they be working if conditions are too dangerous for them to do so.
JCP&L does deserve credit for owning up to this, however, and stating that they'll be working on addressing this problem for future outages. Let's just hope that all of New Jersey's power companies take note to ensure accuracy with their alert systems as well.