Lessons learned by New Jersey American Water during Hurricane Irene last year helped the company to prepare, respond to, and quickly recover when Hurricane Sandy hit the state last month, company President David K. Baker told a Senate hearing in Trenton today.
Preparation for a storm like Sandy began more than a year ago, as all major facilities refined and practiced their emergency operations plans. At major water treatment facilities, new generators were installed permanently, several that were attached to natural gas lines. Contracts were established with vendors for fuel, additional generators, and other necessary materials that would be needed in a major storm. As it became obvious that Sandy was going to hit New Jersey, additional generators, fuel and chemicals were obtained. “The result of all this work, both long-term planning and more immediate preparatory activity was clearly evident in the resiliency of the company’s water system during the storm,” said Baker. “We took the lessons from Irene to heart.”
Although, when Sandy came ashore on Oct. 29 knocking out the power to nearly 100 percent of New Jersey American Water’s operations, which serves nearly 30 percent of the New Jersey population, the impact on customers’ water service was very isolated and of short duration. Sixty five sites were operating on backup generation. “Putting it in perspective, we estimate that over the course of several days, only about 200 out of approximately 650,000 customer accounts on the mainland experienced short periods of low to no water pressure as our crews worked to keep back up power generators operating,” said Baker. “I was and continue to be inspired by the efforts of our employees to keep water service flowing to our customers. A few of our employees had residences rendered uninhabitable by the storm, and most had no power at their own homes for several days. And they still worked, and in many cases are still working around the clock to counter the storm’s impact on our customers’ water service.”
New Jersey American Water stepped up communications before the storm, establishing a specific website for Hurricane Sandy updates and water service information. This was, again, an Irene lesson, and was quickly accessed by thousands of visitors throughout the storm. The company also used social media to get out information, and respond to customer questions and issues in near real time. By the time the storm had passed nearly 900,000 people had received company information via the Facebook page.
Water system restoration continues on the northern barrier island in Ocean County, where New Jersey American Water crews are working seven days a week to repair the water distribution infrastructure damaged by the storm. “Our hearts, as well as our dedicated efforts, go out to our customers, particularly those facing an unprecedented level of loss and destruction from Hurricane Sandy,” said Baker. “We are working as quickly, and given the challenges of debris and storm damage, as safely as we can to reestablish water service for them.”
New Jersey American Water, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Water (NYSE: AWK), is the investor-owned water utility in the state, providing high-quality and reliable water and/or wastewater services to approximately 2.5 million people. Founded in 1886, American Water is the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company. With headquarters in Voorhees, N.J., the company employs approximately 7,000 dedicated professionals who provide drinking water, wastewater and other related services to an estimated 15 million people in more than 30 states, as well as parts of Canada. More information can be found by visiting www.amwater.com.