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PSE&G ‘Misled’ Teaneck in Sandy Response, Official Says

Residents and council members say more communication is needed in future storms.

Public Service Electric and Gas funneled incorrect information to Teaneck officials in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the township should work to expand its own communications for future disasters, town council members and residents said Tuesday.

Despite numerous conference calls and a meeting with PSE&G’s chief executive, Teaneck still struggled to glean any useful information on the company’s power restoration efforts, officials said.

“We were misinformed and misled, whether it was due to incompetence or intentional misinformation, I am not entirely sure, but the result is the same,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen.

In one briefing with PSE&G, Gussen said he was told crews started work at a Teaneck power station following the storm. In fact, Gussen said, those crews didn’t arrive until the weekend.

“When we talk about meaningful dialog with PSE&G, I feel like I was flat out lied to,” the deputy mayor said. “A lot of what we were being fed by PSE&G was inaccurate.”

PSE&G conducted “extensive outreach” to mayors and each was given a specific contact within the company, according to utility spokeswoman Karen Johnson. The company used e-mails and regular conference calls to update local leaders.

“We understand that everyone wanted their power restored -- and our crews were working as hard as they could to make that happen while dealing with the tremendous destruction Sandy left behind,” the spokeswoman said.

Officials were active on social media and sent Sandy updates through the town’s e-mail alert system. Councilman Elie Y. Katz shared information using his “Teaneck Tid-bits” e-mail blast and said he fielded nearly 4,000 messages through the storm’s aftermath.

Still, massive power outages across nearly the entire town have left officials to consider low-tech methods of keeping residents informed.

Councilman Henry Pruitt recommended using the police and fire stations as centers where residents can stop in for updates.

“It’s clear that whatever we did, we could have done better because this was a storm that we’ve never experienced before,” Pruitt said.

Neighborhood volunteers could hand out information in future storms, suggested Councilwoman Lizette Parker.

The town’s Community Relations Advisory Board also discussed a program to take care of elderly residents during storms, said Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.

Northeast Teaneck resident Leonard Knight said communication needed improvement.

“Not knowing what’s happening for two weeks is something that you have to rectify,” he told council members. 

In future storms, residents could have more places to charge electronics and stay warm. Township Manager William Broughton said generators were approved for the Richard Rodda Community Center and the town had been given a supply of cots.

“Opening a shelter isn’t as easy as just opening the door and having a place. You have to care for the needs of individuals that may come to the shelters,” Broughton said.

The Red Cross and Bergen County officials are generally responsible for running shelters, he said. 

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debra roman November 29, 2012 at 11:26 AM
The council members repeatedly speak about e-mail alerts during a storm. In fact, this was noted in a Suburbanite article. I still do not understand how council members can't get the point that, if I don't have power, I don't get e-mail. In addition I spoke with a council member at length during the storm and left messages for two others. None of the three called me back (and they had my number) to tell me about the Benjamin Franklin warming shelter. I believe the communications problem between the council and residents is equal to that between the town and Public Service.
JamesTS November 29, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I too did not have power but got lots of updates on my phone. I did see Town EMails but found The Patch to have much better/faster info. IN fact the Patch was by far the best source for updates and Patch also sent more email alerts then the town. I suggest everyone invest in a smartphone which i did last year. It was the best investment i have made. I was very connected to updates from Patch and some town emails. I do agree with Parker about neighborhood volunteers to help with people who dont have technology..
Keith Kaplan November 29, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Let's not forget that there were downed trees and "live" electricity wires all over town. To send out volunteers with information could have been extremely dangerous. While I can understand that you didn't have email access, Debra - many people did on mobile devices. I was able to inform my neighbors based on information I received via Twitter, Facebook and email from Council-members and PSE&G directly. It's certainly not a perfect scenario, but we are far from the days when a car with a megaphone going through the streets is the only way to get a message out. One day, everyone will have the ability to receive notifications on devices that won't need a constant flow of electricity to function - until that day, I suggest you talk with your neighbors. At least one of them probably had information that could have helped you out.
John Doe November 29, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Teaneck should consider slowly changing the infrastructure to underground electric, video and communications (via-a-vis broadband) as these sorts of weather events will continue. A well designed grid, too, as part of a new infrastructure will go a long way to reducing the impact on large portions of the township when things go awry.
Disgruntled November 29, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I do not understand how Deputy Mayor Gussen can claim, with a straight face, "“When we talk about meaningful dialog with PSE&G, I feel like I was flat out lied to. A lot of what we were being fed by PSE&G was inaccurate.” If Mr. Gussen and Mr. Broughton were told by PSE&G that crews were working to restore power to Teaneck, why didn't Mr. Broughton drive over to the Teaneck substation(s) himself to verify this information and coordinate restoration efforts? Surely he would have noticed that no crews were working there and alerted PSE&G to the error of their statements. I think it is obvious that township employees were not 'on the scene' to coordinated township and PSE&G efforts, as they should have been.
Keith Kaplan November 29, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Disgruntled - seriously? You want them to go everywhere to see if people that say they are there are indeed, actually there? Where does that end? Following the police cars around to make ure that they are responding to emergencies? When a cop calls in that he's on location, you don't question it. If PSE&G was saying they were on seen when they weren't, that's a breach of trust on their part. Next time, it might be a good idea to verify -- but that comes with experience. I have legitimate gripes about how this council and manager handle things, but at a certain point, we need to let them, well..... manage. Showing up on seen to make sure people are there is simply not possible when you are in charge of hundreds of people and a myriad of services.
John Santaella November 29, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Teaneck says: "Woe is me". Hundreds upon hundreds of towns were without power and the Teaneck Council wants to jump to the head of the line to get detailed information on power restorations? Give me a break please. I think PSE&G did a terrific job under the circumstances and those out of State workers as well. PS. I'm a Teaneck resident and NOT a PSE&G employee or stockholder.
Disgruntled November 29, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Keith - There were no 'live' wires all over town, as you claim. Power was shut off at the substation level. Plus, we do not need volunteers to drive around with bullhorns, as we have our very own police and DPW departments in Teaneck, who are paid to drive around and protect Teaneck citizens by all of our taxes. While a car with a megaphone is not the only way to get a message out, it is certainly an effective way to get the message out. I didn't see a single police car drive down my street for four days after the storm, and when I did see the first car, it was driving too fast to hail down.
debra roman November 29, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Actually, Keith, I have wonderful neighbors, and, unfortunately, we were all in the same boat. My telephone was working, tho, and the councilpeople I contacted did have my phone number. Since I was able to reach their phones, it would appear that they too had phone service. The question might be asked that when we have a natural disaster, we perhaps are relying far too much on our digital equipment.
Disgruntled November 29, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Yes Keith I do expect Mr. Broughton to coordinate restoration efforts between PSE&G and the DPW. They need to work together to restore power when township trees are on PSE&G lines. How can he claim to be coordinating efforts and also claim that he was not aware PSE&G was absent from the substations?
zizi November 29, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Teaneck township actually closed their offices..... instead of opening them for extended hours.... to serve the township residents.... sounds strange.... no emergency management was needed.. i guess?
zizi November 29, 2012 at 05:16 PM
@John: PSE&G did a really bad job... and that is going easy on them..... do you suffer from dementia John?
zizi November 29, 2012 at 05:22 PM
@John Doe: That is a very costly proposal..... not to mention the traffic issues it will cause...... The easy solution will be to get a logging company to come in the town take away all the giant trees off of our streets where they don't belong and should not be there in the first place...... the town should only allow small flowering trees that will beautify our town.... it will also prevent power outages from storms and hurricanes...... avoid damages to property and save lives of the tax payers.... it will also allow us to trim our township payroll and save some money....... it is a win win situation....
Jim Dunleavy November 29, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I initally was happy when PSEG put out that grid showing when they were planning to bring power back to different areas. But then we found out that grid was not a set of goals but rather a wish list. They even fooled the "man who knows all" governor Christie. WE have an old, above ground power system that will be subject to failure in sotrms. Until that changes we can complain all we want about response and power restoration times, but the fact remains it will take some time whenever we get these types of storms. How about we raise taxes so we can put the powerlines underground?
John Santaella November 29, 2012 at 06:41 PM
No, I do not suffer from dementia. I look around and see homes that were destroyed and people who now have no place to live and I consider myself lucky and was merely inconvenienced for the time I was without power. I still had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep on and extra blankets as the temperture went down in my house. I also had gas to cook with. Oh, gas provided by this same PSE&G
John Santaella November 29, 2012 at 06:44 PM
The power lines belong to the companies who supply our power. It is up to them to put them underground if we don't mind higher rates for our utilities. If the town were to do it it might give ZIZI apoplexy when taxes increased. ;)
Keith Kaplan November 29, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Coordinate, absolutely. But if they tell him they are at a particular location and are in fact, not there - that's not the same thing.
Keith Kaplan November 29, 2012 at 06:51 PM
There were initially live wires down - then, after they started turning power back on, there were additional wires that may or may not have been live. It cannot be disputed that there was potential danger. In fact, every email from PSE&G said the be careful and consider all wires to be "live". As for the cops, I saw plenty of them --- at gas stations.
Keith Kaplan November 29, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Absolutely right - the workers I met from Missouri couldn't believe how much of a patchwork of "fixes" our electrical grid was. It's only a matter of time before it becomes cost effective to have these things under ground.
debra roman November 29, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Zizi mentions "Emergency Management," good point. I noted, FIVE DAYS after the storm a photo of Ridgefield Park residents donating food and clothing for people in need. The event was organized by the Ridgefield Park Emergency Management Dept. Ridgefield Park is alot smaller than Teaneck. How come we don't have an Emergency Management Dept? Getting back to the cops and the loudspeakers, I am pretty sure I saw a news item about a Bergen County town where the cops were driving around alerting citizens. Admittedly PSE&G had a major logistics problem. Teaneck, however, is paying people ample salaries to be able to handle a major emergency, especially when we have been forewarned. The combined intelligence of the council and hopefully paid employees obviously did not meet the needs of the community when it was most important. What was missing was a bit of "humanity."
Art Vatsky November 29, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Think about this: PSEG has to handle everybody all at the same time. Unless we can show bias by PSEG against those circuits that serve Teaneck, we have to look to ourselves to see what can be done. My concern is focused on Teaneck government. We need Tree Management because falling trees create the storm outages and the risk. I suggest that we: Inventory all our municipal trees for those that healthy, overage, poisoned, sick, strangled, weakened, then decide which pose the greated STORM risk. Cull as needed. Some large trees were planted in spaces less than twenty four inches wide about 80+ years ago. Was that wise? Are we going to repeat that? I know those on the Shade Tree Commission feel the pressure to choose new tree types for our changing environment. Slow growth is preferred. Shade, too. Hardiness against weather and insects. The Township must take responsibility for the ways the trees of Teaneck our maintained and PSEG must take responsibility for the poles. The township budget has provided less than $10,000 a year to care for our trees. That is about a $1 a year per tree. We need to increase it.
chocoholic November 30, 2012 at 02:37 AM
when i called PSE&G to ask what the status was, i was told by the recording " there is no power outage detected in this area". however, i was sitting in a dark and cold house. what an insult to my intelligence !! over the next few days of freezing cold temperatures at home, i became more insulted and angry when i called again, and again, and was given no information !.. upon walking the entire west englewood area of teaneck, by the 5th day, i still saw no evidence of a single repair truck . the town actually was "closed" . there was no form of communication, and after all the taxes we pay.... i would think that the very highly paid town employees should have been going door to door !!...the engineers at PSE&G knew that their wiring, and other venues are quite antiquated, and that eventually we were going to be hit by another storm!.. so why and what were they doing about it? they certainely were not working to correct this problem. we pay them for a service that we did not get. perhaps they should all be let go, and some new blood be hired for the system !! the town and the governer must put pressure and do some research on this !!... seems to me there is someone getting away with "murder"!!! no more excuses, get with the program !!!!
Keith Kaplan November 30, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Totally right chocoholic - perhaps you can put together an online petition to fire every manager at PSE&G. Can we nominate you to start the hiring process?
shimon baum November 30, 2012 at 02:52 PM
We all need to accept that to live in Teaneck you need a generator. Power outages from storms is now going to be a yearly thing.
John Santaella November 30, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Our outages have seemed more often and of longer duration. You may be right about the generators Shimon.
Keith Kaplan November 30, 2012 at 04:12 PM
I got my generator two years ago. Now, I got the permit to have a sub-panel put in for the entire house to get juice. Well worth the $1200.
zizi November 30, 2012 at 05:05 PM
@chocoholic: There are beneficiaries who enjoy how we are taxed and how the tax money is spend. Any comment about ways to increase the efficiency usually serves as a bait for these people. They come out of their wood works and attack. This is normal around Teaneck.
zizi November 30, 2012 at 05:08 PM
The town closed their offices in response to the emergency..... That should tell you where the priorities were for Mr. Broughton & company. #look how quickly they jump on you when you criticize the township.
linda appel December 02, 2012 at 05:56 PM
thanks keith !... but i am not so computer savy !.. wish i could start a petition....i wonder where i would find the "honest" guys who really want to WORK for a living and not just line their pockets !!!!..... by the way, we are now waiting for PSE&G to come to inspect our house for a generator.... they don't even have time to come over here in a timely manner !!....i hear there is also a "rip off" game they play to charge lots more money so they get the job for the new meters which are not always necessary !!!.... guess this is america.....can i fight ???
Carol Kaplan December 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Carol Kaplan I, too, question the advice to use your i-phone to get information from Facebook or Twitter, etc. during emergencies when the power is out. Not everyone has the advantage of an i-phone but many, many residents still have the good old-fashioned telephone that is wired to a telephone pole, not connected to cable systems,....it is still more reliable than anything else. Therefore, I urge that the Reverse 9 call system be used before any other "modern" technology that so often fails us. If we can't get out to charge our iphones and/or have no gas to use the car to charge the phones, how can we use the iphones??!!

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