Emergency Preparedness

The United States faces some of the most severe weather on Earth. Every year Americans are impacted by approximately 10,000 thunderstorms, 2,500 floods, 1,000 tornadoes, and 6 deadly hurricanes, according to the National Weather Service.

Yet the United States has the best record of utility service reliability in the world.

In New Jersey, a wide range of destructive weather patterns, from intense lightning and ice storms to nor'easters and hurricanes, are not uncommon. In fact, a large majority of the nationally declared disasters over the last 30 years has occurred right here in our region of the United States. When disruptions do occur it can be incredibly paralyzing to our everyday lives. That is why it is so important to stay prepared.

Many of New Jersey’s utility companies have resources available to customers to help them before, during and after a storm.  The companies use social media extensively to receive and disseminate outage and hazard reports.  Smart phone “apps” are also available to many utility customers to report outages and track restoration efforts.  Here are the online “storm centers” for New Jersey’s electric utilities:

PSE&G - Storm Center
Jersey Central Power & Light
Atlantic City Electric
Orange & Rockland - Storm Information Center

When the Storm Approaches

If your lights begin to flicker or dim, this could be a sign that power delivery could soon be interrupted. To protect your valuable equipment, unplug all sensitive high-drain items, such as computers, televisions, audio equipment, as well as air conditioners and refrigerators. If you lose electrical service, wait until the power is restored before plugging these items back in. Since we can never know for sure exactly when a storm might hit, it is suggested to protect consumer electronic equipment (such as televisions and computers) with surge protectors.

Keeping Food Safe

Consider what you can do before the storm. Severe storms run the risk of power outages for an extended period of time. This can make it difficult to properly preserve food in the refrigerator and freezer. The following are some important tips to remember when trying to prevent food spoilage:

  • Before the storm hits, set your refrigerator and freezer controls to the coldest settings. If there is a power outage food will stay colder and last longer.
  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be kept at or below 40ºF and frozen food at or below 0ºF.
  • Refrigerator and freezer doors must stay closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A refrigerator can keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if left unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed (24 hours if it is half full).
  • Use dry or block ice if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an average-sized full freezer for 2 days.
  • Have items on hand that don’t require refrigeration and can be eaten without cooking or preparation.
  • Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply.
  • Have ready-to-use baby formula for infants, and have pet food available as well.
  • Keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.
  • Coolers with the help of a frozen gel pack can be a great way to keep food cold for long periods of time.
  • If flooding is a consideration, place food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.

For specific food safety information, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-256-7072; for the hearing-impaired (TTY) 1-800-256-7072. The Hotline is staffed by food safety experts weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Plan Your Plan

Understand what the various weather advisories mean and keep apprised of conditions outside.

Know your local radio stations for weather updates and keep a battery powered radio on hand for changing conditions.

Keep the lines of communication open. Charge cell phones and wireless laptop computers.

Have flashlights on hand, along with fresh batteries.

Have cash on hand. Credit card readers and ATMs could be out of service if power or telecommunications lines are down.

Fill your vehicle’s tank with gas.  Power outages can disable the pumps at filling stations.

Update your list of emergency phone numbers, as well as those that require special care, such as seniors and people with disabilities. Be sure that you know who to contact to report a power outage or other utility problem.

Severe Weather Terms

  • To stay safe and know how to best prepare for severe weather conditions, severe weather alerts are issued by the National Weather Service and are carried by local radio and television stations, cable TV channels, Web sites, and NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Below we have assembled a list of definitions that will help you understand what type of conditions to expect.
  • Flood Watch - High flow or overflow of water from a river is possible in the given time period. It can also apply to heavy runoff or drainage of water into low-lying areas. These watches are generally issued for flooding that is expected to occur at least 6 hours after heavy rains have ended.
  • Flood Warning - Flooding conditions are actually occurring or are imminent in the warning area.
  • Flash Flood Watch - Flash flooding is possible in or close to the watch area. Flash Flood Watches are generally issued for flooding that is expected to occur within 6 hours after heavy rains have ended.
  • Flash Flood Warning - Flash flooding is actually occurring or imminent in the warning area. It can be issued as a result of torrential rains, a dam failure, or an ice jam.
  • Hurricane Watch - Hurricane conditions (sustained winds greater than 73 mph) are possible in the watch area within 36 hours.
  • Hurricane Warning - Hurricane conditions are expected in the warning area in 24 hours or less.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Conditions are conducive to the development of severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - A severe thunderstorm has actually been observed by spotters or indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area.
  • Tornado Watch - Conditions are conducive to the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area.
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado has actually been sighted by spotters or indicated on radar and is occurring or imminent in the warning area.
  • Tropical Storm Watch - Tropical storm conditions with sustained winds from 39 to 73 mph are possible in the watch area within the next 36 hours.
  • Tropical Storm Warning - Tropical storm conditions are expected in the warning area within the next 24 hours.
  • Winter Storm Watch - There is the potential for significant and hazardous winter weather within 48 hours.
  • Winter Storm Warning - Significant and hazardous winter weather is occurring or imminent.
  • Winter Weather Advisory - Snow, sleet, freezing rain, or a combination of precipitation types is expected to cause a significant inconvenience, but is not serious enough to warrant a warning.

Outdoor Tips

Remove any debris or loose items in your yard. Strong winds can turn unanchored items into real hazards.

Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. Hurricane winds can break weak limbs and hurl them at great speeds, damaging whatever they hit. Ice and snow can weigh down limbs to their breaking point. Make trees more wind, snow and ice resistant by removing diseased or damaged limbs; then strategically remove branches so that wind can blow through them.

Fix loose rain gutters and downspouts, and clear them if they are clogged. Problems can result from hurricanes or severe storms that bring long periods of heavy rain, while winter snow and ice can cause blockages that lead to greater problems down the line. Cleaning and securing drainage systems will help protect your home from water damage.

Strengthen and protect any pet dwellings in your yard in the same way you protect your home.

What To Do If You Lose Power

Call your electric company to report the outage, or use electronic means such as the company’s smartphone app, if available.

If you find you are the only house on the street without power, check to see if the main fuse is blown or if the circuit breaker has tripped. If it's your main fuse, move the switch in the fuse box to the OFF position. Replace any blown fuses, and then turn the main switch back to the ON position. To reset your circuit breaker, first switch the breaker all the way to OFF, then back to ON.

When you call your power company to report a problem, be prepared. Be ready to provide your name, telephone number and address, as well as your account number. It helps to be as specific as possible about your location, by giving cross streets or mentioning visible landmarks. Remember, telephones that require a separate power source, i.e. cordless telephones, may not work during an outage.

Provide any information that you think might be useful to repair crews. Important items to note to customer service representatives include; hearing a loud boom, seeing sparks or electrical arcing, or identifying downed trees or poles in your neighborhood. Alerting them of possibly dangerous conditions helps prioritize the restoration process.

During a storm and after a storm has subsided, under no circumstances should you or anyone else go near any downed lines.  Always assume such lines are live and dangerous.

Restoring Power

When service is interrupted due to a storm or other disaster, the restoration of service is done systematically and safely. Please understand that some restorations are higher priorities than others due to their critical need for service.

Immediate attention must be given to hospitals, those on life-support systems, essential services for health and public safety, and general traffic control equipment. In addition, repairs to major distribution lines and other facilities that serve as the backbone of the network must be attended to before individual neighborhoods can be addressed. Power crews then work methodically to address areas of the network that have the largest customer impact first.

Keep in mind that the safety of the public, and the utility professionals on the job, is always an overriding concern. At times, restoring service must wait until an area is secured and deemed safe. In the event of severe damage from a major storm, utilities from other states may be asked to assist by supplying equipment and personnel.

New Jersey utilities are always looking for ways to improve how they predict storms, prepare for possible damage, and respond when the storm’s impact has become a reality.

Helpful Links

American Red Cross
NJ 2-1-1
Federal Emergency Management Agenda (FEMA) - Are You Ready?
USDA Consumer Alert: Keeping Food Safe During An Emergency
National Weather Service
NJ Office of Emergency Management
Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist