“Amy, I am sorry but I need to wake you. We are going to lose our generators in an hour because the city water plant has no power.”
Now this is a bad way to be woken up on any day. But after being up for 36 hours straight, thinking the worst was over and having 60 very sick children at our pediatric rehabilitation hospital in New Brunswick, many requiring energy to run equipment to keep them alive, this is the start of a very bad day. This was the day the “paradigm shifted” for me. The day I will never again take for granted what it takes to keep our basic necessities together and the realization of just how interdependent our infrastructure is in this state. Water, electric and cable — all of these things relate to each other. All of the systems being down caused chaos and devastation in ways that were both deadly and frightening.
The extreme storms of recent years — Hurricane Irene, the October 2011 ice storm and especially Sandy have brought home the urgency of infrastructure reliability. For those of us in health care, our dependence on these systems is humbling.
The health care institutions are eager to see New Jersey's entire infrastructure improved. We believe that all parties must develop plans to ensure that we are prepared for the next big storm. Building for the next Sandy is a big job that needs to begin now.
Children's Specialized Hospital helps children recover after devastating brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and premature birth. Many of these children can live in the community, at home with their families, but require ventilators to help them breathe. During the storm, these children had to take refuge with us at our hospital in New Brunswick. I never want to go through another panicked night when we have to plan for an evacuation because the infrastructure couldn't support us.
People ask me, “But won't that cost too much money?” Tell me what is the cost of the families that couldn't receive care because many health care facilities were closed; for those families on the Shore who still find themselves displaced from their home? Would those families think the $4 billion over 10 years to create a better energy system is too much? Our question should be, “What does it take for all of the utilities to ensure that we are prepared for the next storm, for the next crisis?”
It would be terribly short-sighted if our response to Sandy stopped with damage repair, and did not address the vulnerabilities that the storm revealed. Energy is the economy's lifeblood, and more importantly, it is the one thing that keeps some of our children alive. We should not overlook the fact that infrastructure investments, such as PSE&G's Energy Strong program, create thousands of jobs and support New Jersey's economic competitiveness.
No one can predict when the next Sandy will strike New Jersey, but because we know the potential for devastation; it is imperative that we are prepared. Utilities such as PSE&G serve the same communities we do and are true partners in this effort.
If an immense tragedy such as Sandy has a silver lining, it is the opportunity to rebuild better than ever before. PSE&G is one of our state's most important allies in this critical task. Certainly, the Energy Strong plan should be thoroughly reviewed, but it is important that regulatory action not be unnecessarily delayed. New Jersey residents need to use PSE&G's depth of experience in this area along with the skills of its dedicated work force to ensure this opportunity for improvement isn't wasted.
Amy B. Mansue
president and CEO Children's Specialized Hospital