Utilities Prepare for Irene

Utilities in the path of Irene have been busy preparing for the storm, transferring crews and even having tree trimming crews available if the hurricane causes damage to the power grid. They urge customers to call if they lose service during the storm, and not just assume the utility knows because the whole neighborhood is out.

PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez says the emergency number is 1-800-841-4141.  She says they’re suggesting customers have a flashlight, battery powered radio and extra batteries in case service is lost during the storm.

Engel Menendez says customers should stay away from damaged equipment or downed wires.  She says even if power is out in a neighborhood, a wire could still be live. Those conditions should be reported immediately.

Engel Menendez says if you have to use a generator; keep it outside and away from windows and never connect it directly to the home’s wiring or a household outlet. She says if the generators are connected that way, they can feed electricity back into PECO’s system, creating a dangerous risk for utility crews who are working to restore service.

PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau says the utility is bringing in crews from Kentucky to help with storm clean up if needed. He also emphasizes that people need to stay away from downed power lines as well as electrical equipment that may be underwater. PPL’s emergency service number is 1-800-342-5775.

Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for First Energy, says they expect to have the most impact on the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey portions of their service area. They have been moving crews from their western service territory to their eastern territories, including those from West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.  The utility also has two meteorologists on staff.

Surgeoner says if Met Ed customers or other First Energy customers experience an outage, they should call 1-888-544-4877. He says all outages should be reported, because the more who report, the sooner they can pinpoint the exact location of the outage problem.

Surgeoner says if you lose power, keep freezers and refrigerators shut unless you have to get something out.  He says a freezer can keep foods fresh up to three days if it’s not repeatedly opened.  State Health officials say you should check the temperature of the freezer with a thermometer as soon as power is restored.

Telephone and Wireless service providers have also been preparing for the storm.   Network engineers and facilities people are ready to deploy equipment as needed to help with communications needs according to Verizon Wireless. Spokesman Sheldon Jones says they plan year-round for these types of situations and they’re confidence the network will perform well.

But as the recent earthquake shows, wireless networks can experience delays. Jone says when you have hundreds of thousands of people calling at one time, some calls may not get through until the congestion clears. He says people should limit the amount of non-emergency calls they make as the storm hits, and try texting when volume is heavy.

Jones says they’ve been communicating with government agencies and first responder agencies to assist with their communication needs during the emergency.

He says customers should keep their wireless phones fully charged in case power is lost, and it’s also a good idea to have back up batteries charged and ready. He says people with smart phones can download apps that provide critical weather-related and safety information. He says many of these apps are free and people should take a look at them if they have a smart phone or a tablet.

Verizon provided these tips for landline and wireless customers:

Wireless customers should:

·       Keep phones, batteries, chargers and other equipment in a dry, accessible location.  Consider waterproof accessories or simple zip-lock storage bags to protect devices.

·       Keep wireless phone batteries fully charged – in case local power is lost – well before warnings are issued.

·       Have additional charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power.

·       Maintain a list of emergency numbers – police and fire agencies; power and insurance companies; family, friends and co-workers; etc. – and program them into your phone.

·       Distribute wireless phone numbers to family members and friends.

·       Use a service such as Backup Assistant, the free Verizon Wireless application that stores a phone’s address book on a secure server in case the phone is lost or damaged.

·       Limit non-emergency calls to conserve battery power and free up wireless networks for emergency agencies and operations.

·       Send brief text messages rather than voice calls for the same reasons as above.

·       Forward your home phone calls to your wireless number if you evacuate.

Landline customers  who rely solely on cordless phones in their home should consider purchasing an inexpensive hard-wired phone that plugs directly into a wall jack.  Cordless phones will not function without commercial power.

Residential customers should contact Verizon on line or at 1-800-VERIZON  to report any service-related issue.  Business customers should contact their regular customer service centers or account teams as needed.   Verizon Wireless customers can call *611 from their wireless device or 1-800-922-0204 to report any service-related issue.

Corbett Signs Disaster Declaration Ahead of Hurricane Irene


Gov. Corbett briefs the media after declarating a statewide disaster emergency.

By declaring a statewide disaster emergency, Governor Tom Corbett says state agencies will have the flexibility they need to provide help to local emergency responders.  It also authorizes the state to use all resources and personnel as necessary.   1,500 National Guard troops have been pre-positioned in central and eastern PA.  “Hopefully we won’t have to use them, but they’re going to be in the area and be there.”  Corbett said at a Friday afternoon briefing. 

The governor urges every Pennsylvania citizen to heed the safety advice and warnings being issued by emergency managers across the eastern half of the state.  “You prepare for the worst, and you pray for the best,” Corbett says of Hurricane Irene

Southeastern Pennsylvania, in particular, has been saturated by rain.  Philadelphia has already set a record for monthly rainfall totals with 13-inches – before Irene even arrives.  But, Corbett cautions that nobody should take the situation lightly.  “Folks in the central part of the state, I’d be watching this storm.  I’m going to be watching this storm, very, very closely.” 

Governor Corbett tells reporters he’s cleared his scheduled through Monday, and will be splitting time between the Governor’s Residence and PEMA emergency operations center in Harrisburg.  Pennsylvanians can find all the resources they need for emergency planning online.

AAA Projects a Slight Decrease In Labor Day Travel

The Labor Day holiday travel period starts a week from today and AAA says more than 31 million Americans plan to travel at least 50 miles from home.  Compared to last Labor Day, travel is expected to be off by about 2.4% nationwide.

AAA says more people will drive and fewer will fly, thanks in part to moderating gas prices and higher air fares. Average travel distance is expected to be down slightly while spending will stay about the same. 27% of the budget will go toward fuel and travel.   

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid-Atlantic says they’re projecting a decrease in travelers due to economic uncertainty and the increasing air fares. Travelers can expect to see increases in hotel rates but decreases in car rental rates. The holiday period runs September 1st through 5th.

Robinson says the average distance is expected to be 608 miles compared to 635 miles last year. Median spending will be about $702, compared to $697 over Labor Day 2010.                                       

Robinson says gas prices were cheaper last year, but they have moderated somewhat. More people are expected to travel by automobile this Labor Day than last. She says air fare is being more impacted by prices, and that’s where they’re seeing the decline in their forecast for the holiday weekend.


Hurricane Irene Impacting North Carolina, Pennsylvania Bracing for Wind and Rain From the Storm

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are taking  direct hit from Hurricane Irene, but preparations are  underway from the Carolinas north, including Pennsylvania, as the storm barrels up the coast.   

Bill Read, Director of the National Hurricane Center, says the rest of the Eastern Seaboard is well within its path as it moves up the coast. He says regardless of where the center goes, the entire Northeast corridor faces the risk of heavy rains, high winds and coastal flooding.

Craig Fugate, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says they’ve deployed manpower along the coast. He says they have teams as far south as North Carolina and up the east coast including Maine.

Fugate says this will not just be a coastal storm, they expect the risk of power outages and flooding inland. He says wind field of the storm is very large and sustained tropical storm force winds can cause a lot of tree damage.


In Ocean City Maryland, a mandatory evacuation was ordered.  Phase three of the resort town’s hurricane action plan took effect at midnight Thursday.  All visitors were asked to return home and year round residents were told to leave the town until the danger passes. Only emergency personnel are remaining in town and all incoming traffic is now limited to emergency personnel. No other vehicles will be permitted to enter  except by approved authority. The last time the town ordered a mandatory evacuation was for Hurricane Gloria in 1985. International student workers were evacuated earlier on Thursday.

Committee to Consider Charter School Reforms this Fall

Jeff Piccola

State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin/York)

Pennsylvania’s charter school law was considered one of the nation’s best when it was enacted in 1997, but 14-years later many are calling for reforms.  “A number of states… have surpassed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in adopting stronger charter laws, all with the goal of making charter schools more viable and a high quality option,” says Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin).  Piccola convened a capitol hearing, Thursday, on his comprehensive, 145-page charter school reform legislation.   

The bill has been two years in the making and has some bipartisan backing.  Minority Chairman Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), one of the bill’s cosponsors, says it insists on transparency and accountability.  “We say, are you fiscally accountable?  Do you provide what you need to provide at the best cost and in the most productive manner?”

SB 904 would – among other things – create an independent commission to oversee and authorize Pennsylvania’s charter schools, allow for direct state funding of charter schools, and create a new task force to investigate funding issues.  Pennsylvania currently has 90,000 students enrolled in charter schools, and 30,000 students on waiting lists.  Most of the students waiting for charter school slots are in Philadelphia.

Daylin Leach

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery)

The committee’s charter school reform push isn’t without its critics though.  The Pennsylvania School Boards Association testified that almost all charter school funding is provided by the districts, and SB 904 does not provide any meaningful funding reform.  State Senator Daylin Leach also raised concerns about the impact on the schools that students are leaving.  “It is a net loss to the school, and since the school is just a building, it is a net loss to the other students who are in that school.” 

Sen. Piccola anticipates action on charter school reform this fall.  Other big education issues, on the horizon, include school vouchers and mandate relief.

Earthquake Called Significant for this Region

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia about 80 miles from the nation’s capital caused reports of damage Tuesday afternoon.  It was felt across much of Pennsylvania.       The tremor chased people out of the state capitol complex and even buildings in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It was centered just outside of Louisa, Virginia.

 Dr. Charles Sharnberger, professor emeritus of earth sciences at Millersville University, says a quake of that magnitude is unusual in the mid-Atlantic region. He says it’s in an area called the central Virginia seismic zone that has been  known to have earthquakes over the decades, but not ones this big.

He says the aftershocks from this earthquake may go on for months. He says the largest ones are one step down from the main shock, but most will be in the magnitude 2 to 3 range.

In the Harrisburg area, Dr. Sharnberger says the earthquake  was apparently felt at an intensity of 3 to 5 on the 12 point scale, with 7 the beginning of damage.

As a precaution, PennDOT started inspecting bridges after the quake  on Tuesday that were at least 200 feet long or at least 60 feet high. They have been focusing on bridges that could be susceptible to earthquake damage.  They were not finding any problems.

The biggest earthquake in PA was a 5.2 magnitude in the Lake Erie region in 1998.    There was a 4.1 magnitude earthquake in the Lancaster Seismic Zone in 1984, and there was a 4.7 magnitude earthquake in Reading in 1994.  


**Map courtesy of the United States Geological Survey

Pennsylvania Health Department Advises of Possible Measles Exposure

An international traveler diagnosed with measles may have made several stops in Pennsylvania last week.   State Health officials say the visitor arrived in Philadelphia on August 14th and departed on the 17th

Christine Cronkright, Director of Communications at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, says there are people who could be at risk, including infants less than one year of age who have not been vaccinated, people who received the inactivated vaccine between 1963 and 67 or those born after 1957 who only received one dose of the vaccine.

Cronkright says people who may have been exposed and may be vulnerable to measles should call their health care provider or reach out to the Department of Health at 1-877-PA-Health.  She says symptoms could develop as late as September 7th if people were exposed during those time periods.

Cronkright says the youngest and oldest populations are at most risk for severe complications from measles.

Health Officials say people may have been exposed to measles at these locations, dates and times:

Philadelphia County

  • Aug. 14, 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., Greyhound Bus Lines station, 1001 Filbert St.
  • Aug. 14, 5 p.m. to Aug. 17, 5:30 p.m., Philadelphia-Historic District Holiday Inn, 400 Arch St.
  • Aug. 15, 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Ride the Ducks Duck Boat Tour (Zone 1), beginning at 6th and Chestnut Sts.
  • Aug. 16, 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., 30th St. Station, 2955 Market St.
  •          The individual departed on the Amtrak Keystone Line Train #643 to Lancaster, Pa.
  • Aug. 17, 1:30– 5 p.m., 30th St. Station, 2955 Market St.
  •           The individual departed on the Amtrak Northeast Regional Train #171 to Manassas, Va.

Lancaster County

  • Aug. 16, 12:06 – 3:30 p.m. and 5:40-9:10 p.m., Lancaster Amtrak stop, 53 McGovern Ave., Lancaster, Pa.
  • The individual arrived via the Amtrak Keystone Line Train #643 from Philadelphia, Pa., which then went on to Harrisburg, Pa.; he left on a 6:10 p.m. train, Keystone Service # 656, to Philadelphia, Pa. which then went on to New York City. Persons riding between Lancaster and Harrisburg or between Philadelphia and New York City might also have been exposed to the measles virus that could remain in the air inside the train.
  • Aug. 16, 2:30 – 7 p.m. at the following locations:
  • Amish Experience at Plain and Fancy Farm, 3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, Pa.
  • Glick’s Roadside Stand, 248A Monterey Road, Bird-in-Hand, Pa.
  • Riehl’s Farm/Quilt Shop, 247 E. Eby Road, Leola, Pa   

Book Documents Flight 93 Temporary Memorial

As many look forward to the dedication of Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial, a new book looks back at the temporary memorial that once marked the crash site in Somerset County.  Gripped by the site from the first time he laid eyes on it in 2005, Pittsburgh photographer and author Richard Snodgrass returned 50-times to capture moments in time, in all seasons and conditions.  The best 92-images and accompanying prose can be found in the book, “An Uncommon Field.”

The setting was stark and beautiful, with a 40-foot fence just appearing out of nowhere.  “People would be at the site, and then they just had to leave something,” Snodgrass says.  “It took a while to get to this place, it’s not that accessible.  But they would be the things that they had with them in the car.  They would leave them and write “thank you” on it, to the heroes.”   

The temporary memorial was taken down in 2009, but Snodgrass wasn’t sad to see it go.  “It was really time to move on.  I felt that, very much, it had run its course,” he explains.  Half of the proceeds from “An Uncommon Field” will be donated to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund.  Snodgrass says the new, permanent memorial has the same spirit that always grabbed visitors at the old one.  “It’s a very special place and I really urge people to go to it.” 

“An Uncommon Field” is published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.  It’s available through a variety of booksellers. 

Two days of dedication and 10th anniversary commemoration ceremonies will be held at the Flight 93 National Memorial on September 10th and 11th

Field of Honor

The Flight 93 National Memorial will include a Field of Honor. (photo credit: Paul Murdoch Architects)

Marcellus Shale

There’s More Natural Gas Down There Than First Thought

A new assessment from the US Geological Survey finds that the Marcellus Shale contains about 84-trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, but recoverable, natural gas.  That’s a 4,100% increase over 2002 figures.  “We’re learning much more about the Marcellus, geologically and scientifically,” says Marcellus Shale Coalition policy and communications director Steve Forde.  “We’re learning it is much more valuable and more prolific than anybody had imagined a decade ago.”

These numbers come on the heels of new state Department of Environmental information that indicates Marcellus Shale natural gas production has increased by 60% in just the past 6-months.  Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber says the gains aren’t just due to an increased number of wells, but more efficient drilling techniques as well. 

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley

The coalition believes these reports affirm the sustainability of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.  Speaking in Wilkes-Barre, Wednesday, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley said the natural gas industry and related businesses generated more than 72,000 new hires in PA over the past 18-months.  Cawley chaired the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which issued 96-recommendations (including an impact fee) this summer.  That report is expected to receive considerable legislative attention this fall. 

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Corbett (R), former Governor Ed Rendell (D) and former Governor Tom Ridge (R) are all expected to speak at Shale Gas Insight 2011, an industry conference, next month in Philadelphia.

In a Year With Multiple Weather Disasters, Weather Service Wants to Improve Nation’s Readiness

As Hurricane Irene heads toward a possible U. S.  land fall, it’s a reminder of why the National Weather Service has launched a new effort to build a “weather-ready” nation.

The country has already seen nine separate weather-related disasters this year with an economic loss of one billion dollars or more, from floods to tornadoes.

Chris Strager, director of the National Weather Service Eastern Region, says building a more weather-ready nation is going to involve a partnership with other government agencies, researchers and the private sector. He says the country has become more vulnerable to weather extremes with population growth and density in high risk areas, and action needs to be taken to improve readiness.

Strager says they want to look at how their messages are received, how they’re acted upon and what they can ask people to do to be safe from these events.  He says when they conduct post storm surveys; they’ll ask why people did not go to shelter. He says they’re told people heard the warnings, but they’ve heard them before and nothing happened to them those times. Strager says the weather service needs to know how to fix that, to get people to understand what the threat is and to take preparations.

He says people should be preparing for hurricanes and other disasters by having a plan before the storms hit.  He says families need to know where they can go if their home will not provide sufficient shelter. He says families need a checklist to prepare for disasters.

Strager says they’re developing a roadmap to the future for the weather service.  He says these are concepts that are going to take a good deal of planning to get out of the gate, so they’re planning test projects.

To learn more about the project or to get the latest on Hurricane Irene, go to weather.gov