The June 23 storm that ravaged South Jersey brought winds upward of 70 mph and hundreds of thousands of power outages.
Now, weeks later, many towns in the area are turning to a more long-term goal beyond returning power and removing debris — trying to determine what can be done to serve residents better when future storms inevitably hit.
Evesham Township has been no different in this task, and at its July 15 meeting, town council discussed what the township did right and what could be done differently in the future.
Mayor Randy Brown said just hours before the July 15 meeting he and township manager Tom Czerniecki met with representatives of Atlantic City Electric to discuss why it took so long after the storm, four to five days, for residents in the southern end of town to have their power return.
According to Brown, ACE explained it lost two major transmission ports. Those alone took two days to fix, and needed to be completed before ACE could even begin work on returning power to residents directly.
PSE&G, which serves a majority of the homes in town, lost no transmission ports.
Brown said moving forward, he believed the township would have a direct contact with ACE, as it does with PSE&G, and if something similar were to happen, the township would have the ability to communicate information to residents faster.
Another concern Brown said the township communicated to ACE, especially when dealing with an area such as the southern end of town where there are fewer roads, is the company must remove trees and tangled-up wires off the street faster.
Czerniecki said he told ACE the township had 90 percent of its police force working non-stop because traffic lights were out on major highways, in addition to running standard patrols and trying to manage traffic limited in and out of the southern end of town.
“If they had just cleared the wires off, we could have opened those roads up and given some of our guys a break and let them get refreshed and take care of their families,” Czerniecki said.
Brown said another problem on a state level was New Jersey is one of the few states that does not have a smart grid electrical system, in which computers could automatically tell power companies where electrical outages are.
“You (residents) got to call in, municipalities call in, and they’ve (electric companies) got boots on the ground to go out and find out where their outages are,” Brown said.
Overall, though, Brown said the township doesn’t own the electric companies, so any changes would ultimately be a back-and-forth process between the companies and the municipalities.
“It’s a process, and it’s a process with which we work really well with PSE&G, and I think the next storm will be better with ACE,” Brown said.
Resident Rosemary Bernardi, who lives in the southern end of town, commended the township and police department on its work during the storm and aftermath.
Bernardi also offered several suggestions, such as opening community centers more quickly, seeing if there’s anything civilian subgroups could be doing to offload tasks from overworked officers in such situations and if the township could do more in maintaining the trees before they get caught in the power wires.
Brown said he believed Bernardi’s last suggestion was the responsibility of the electric companies.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the taxpayers to have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have to take trees out that really should be the electric companies’ problem,” Brown said.