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JCP&L puts outage data in customers' hands

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JCP&L's new mapping tool gives customers easy access to outage data. (JCP&L)
JCP&L's new mapping tool gives customers easy access to outage data. (JCP&L)

To address complaints from its ratepayers about its response system for last year's storms, Jersey Central Power & Light has launched a Web-based power outage mapping tool to give customers and politicians access to real-time reported data on outages from their desktops, smartphones and mobile devices.

"If people don't notify us, we don't know they're out of power," Dennis O'Boyle, vice president of external affairs for JCP&L, said today at a press conference at the utility company's Morristown headquarters. "After last year's storms, people told us they needed more information. This will show them how many outages there are and what percentage (of an area) is out."

According to a spokeswoman for the utility's parent company, FirstEnergy, the previous outage tracking system had inflexible maps, separate Web pages for restoration estimates and poor mobile capacity — which didn't help those without access to a computer. Tricia Ingraham, the financial and Web communications lead at FirstEnergy, said the former tool also pulled information from confusing ZIP code data and relied on the company's Web servers, so if power was lost at its locations, ratepayers were out of luck.

On the new "24/7 Power Center" system, users can zoom in and out of the interactive map to report and obtain information on current outages — including the number of people affected, estimated restoration times, photos and video of damage and restoration efforts, and ice and water locations — by county, township and community. Ingraham noted the geographical information is based on the latest U.S. Census data and the mapping tool is hosted through Amazon.com's servers, so users can still access it when JCP&L's website is down.

"This is a much better presentation, since a lot of our customers were unable to get to the website from their mobile device, or they found it too clunky," Ingraham said. "Now customers can access … more pertinent information for where outages are occurring."

Ingraham said the next step for the new program is to provide exportable outage summary data for municipalities to post on their websites, estimate restoration times for isolated incidents, outage updates via e-mail and text messaging and interactive streetlight outage maps, which the company plans to introduce later this year. She said the tool — which can be accessed from www.jcp-l.com — complements the communications enhancements the company rolled out when October's snowstorm hit, including a Twitter account, increased communications personnel, daily phone calls with local officials and explanatory videos on YouTube.

According to O'Boyle, the technology investment dovetails with JCP&L's $200 million capital investment for 2012, which he said is solely focused on improving infrastructure, including upgrading more than 40 distribution circuits, replacing utility poles and underground cables, and completing three new substations and distribution facilities. He did not disclose the amount of the company's investment in the mapping tool, but noted that all of FirstEnergy's service areas currently use it.

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