Lisa O'Leary Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy: One Year Later

*Communications & Marketing Department Intern Terence Edelman contributed to this story.

On the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, it’s important to look back and reflect on the lessons learned about disaster recovery.  On Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record made landfall along the heavily populated Jersey Shore causing massive damage and devastation. Approximately 240,000 natural gas customers were impacted as the 15-foot storm surge ravaged systems across four states.

Multiple American Gas Association (AGA) member companies were directly impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), serving central New Jersey, used knowledge gained from Hurricane Irene in 2011 to prepare for Sandy, including utilizing their close working relationships with local code enforcement officials to assist in safely restoring service to water-damaged appliances. PSE&G used their geographic information system and the National Weather Service river forecast models to predict flood impacts. Technicians actively assessed the service territory and reported water damage. During Sandy, PSE&G discovered that setting up field command centers to manage restoration activities and provide an outlet for customers to communicate with employees directly was beneficial.

In an effort to avoid similar damage caused by Sandy, PSE&G has introduced “Energy Strong,” a program which would “harden utility infrastructure and guard against increasingly extreme weather.

National Grid, serving western and northeastern New York, took away three major points from Sandy: plan, prepare and communicate. Reviewing the emergency plans and executing training drills prior to storm season was paramount. Before Sandy, regulator stations in areas prone to flooding were shut down and then additional stations were taken offline throughout the storm to avoid more serious damage to the distribution system.  All communication channels available (radio, social media, newspapers and community liaisons) were used to interact with customers and establish gas restoration.

Photo Courtesy: National Grid

Photo Courtesy: National Grid

In anticipation of the 2013 storm season and beyond, National Grid created the “Beyond the Meter” program to partner with inspectors, plumbers and electricians to help make residences safe to receive natural gas for heat, cooking and hot water.  They also established a Sandy recovery fund, setting aside $30 million to help rebuild communities in their service area.

New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) made it a top priority to ensure their customers along the Jersey Shore knew what was going on throughout the storm. The NJNG Facebook page became a major outlet for updating distribution, as well as receiving information from customers. Post Sandy, NJNG has said they have a much stronger relationship with their customers than ever before.

Photo Courtesy: NJNG

Photo Courtesy: NJNG

Con Edison enhanced its system in Queens, New York as part of a $1 billion plan to fortify infrastructure. Concrete flood walls were built around stations and critical equipment, and several hundred watertight flood doors, barriers and special float-check valves were installed to protect service from future flooding.

Utilities in the affected area are not the only groups dedicated to improved disaster relief. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California created a company-wide emergency management plan to make sure all essential pieces are in place before disaster strikes. Tasks include damage and resource modeling, logistics support, communications, and alignment with local governments and emergency responders.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is also investing $162 million in dozens of restoration and research projects to protect Atlantic Coast communities from future powerful storms, by restoring marshes, wetlands and beaches, rebuilding shorelines, and researching the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surge impacts.

The lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy have shed light on improvements that can be made to utilities’ disaster preparation and recovery plans for the future.

Lisa O'Leary

About Lisa O'Leary

Lisa O'Leary is the Manager of Digital Communications for the American Gas Association. Prior to joining AGA, Lisa served as Manager of Multimedia Communications for the Senator John Heinz History Center, "the Smithsonian's home in Pittsburgh," and as a Web Producer at WPXI-TV, Channel 11 News in Pittsburgh, PA. Lisa is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in Communications.
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