ATLANTIC CITY - No Boy Scouts were there, but they likely would have endorsed the message at Atlantic City Electric's seasonal prep session: Be prepared.
After the region was hammered last storm season with two major weather events - the June 29 derecho and exactly four months later, Hurricane Sandy - officials noted that the most important lesson learned is to be ready for whatever circumstance such extreme conditions create.
Besides causing heavy damage to homes and infrastructure, both storms knocked out power to millions of customers throughout New Jersey and ultimately left thousands of people in some areas without electricity for more than a week. Utility crews worked round the clock to remove downed trees, repair power lines, and rebuild damaged generating stations.
"What did we learn from Sandy? . . . That you can never be too prepared too soon," Vince Maione, region president of Atlantic City Electric, said Tuesday.
The utility serves 547,000 customers in a 2,700-square-mile territory in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean, and Salem Counties. It hosted an hour-long news conference Tuesday at Boardwalk Hall, along with the American Red Cross and the City of Atlantic City, to highlight National Hurricane Preparedness Week 2013, which runs May 26 through June 1, when the Atlantic hurricane season begins. The season ends Nov. 30.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that this year could be an active one for weather, with as many as 20 named storms and 11 hurricanes. In an average year, the Atlantic hurricane season delivers 12 named storms and six hurricanes - with one to three of those hurricanes being classified as major.
NOAA, which assesses coastal conditions and warns of dangerous maritime weather, has indicated that as many as three to six hurricanes this year could become Category 3 storms or higher - levels that could pose a danger to the Eastern Seaboard.
"Severe storms seem to be becoming the norm, so it's all about preparation for us and for our customers," said Maione, noting that Atlantic City Electric has invested $800 million into infrastructure improvements over the last several years.
The utility works closely with local governments and emergency responders to monitor approaching storms, and, if necessary, to activate emergency procedures, Maione said.
"You know that motto, 'Stronger Than The Storm,' we want our system to be stronger than the storm," said Maione, who indicated that the utility has considered burying power lines in areas affected by extreme wind and relocating some barrier-island power substations to areas less prone to flooding.
The utility is urging customers to prepare for storm season by assembling an emergency "go kit" that can help residents shelter in place or make contingency plans to stay elsewhere in the event of a prolonged outage or evacuation.
Besides important phone numbers and a decisive plan, should evacuation become necessary, the "go kit" should include a flashlight, battery-powered radio or TV, battery-powered or windup alarm clock, extra batteries, special medical or infant supplies, insulated cooler, list of emergency phone numbers, a corded phone or cellphone, blankets and spare clothing, a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water for each person living in the household, and a hand-crank can opener.