After Hurricane Irene and then again after Superstorm Sandy, tens of thousands of New Jersey families were without power for days. A new bill moving through the state legislature could make it easier for those families to know when they can go back home.

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The bill requires every public utility, telecommunications company, and cable company to submit annual written requests to its customers, in order to obtain alternate contact information not associated with those customers' accounts and facilitate communication in the case of a service interruption or emergency.

"The purpose of the bill is to actually notify folks when power is out in a reasonable period of time, and keep them up to date as to what is going on and what the situation is," said Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-Union), the bill's sponsor. "This will help ensure consumers have an understanding as to when the power and/or the service will be restored. This isn't for the guy who's out of power for ten minutes or didn't have his cable for ten minutes."

Under the bill, "emergency" is defined as:

  • Anytime the entity's service is interrupted or is in immediate danger of being interrupted by the elements, or
  • The declaration of a state of emergency, or disaster, by either the state or federal government.

"You provide a reasonable alternative way of communication -- your cell, an email -- and the obligation is on the company to provide information in a reasonable timeframe when the power goes out," said Cryan. "As we learned during Sandy, lots of folks had their smartphones, but didn't have the opportunity for information to be provided to them."

Customers are not required to submit the alternate contact information.