“There are a lot of lessons we learned from this storm, especially as it relates to emergency management,” Scotch Plains’ Office of Emergency Management Coordinator, Brian Mahoney said at the Dec. 17 town forum about the township’s response to Superstorm Sandy.
“I think we fell short of what the public should expect from us as it relates to an event of this magnitude,” he added. “During the storm we found that often times our responses and coordination was fragmented and at times disconnected.”
Overall, Mahoney addressed that the township was not as prepared as they should have been for something this serious.
The emergency management plan that was in place prior to the storm was never fully carried out and many aspects of it were impacted, he said. For example, many of the shelters were without power or generators.
Additionally, the municipal building’s generator only powered part of the building and not the second floor where the chief’s office and the township’s servers are located, making communication over the internet nearly impossible.
Moving forward, Mahoney outlined improvements the township plans to make, or is looking into implementing, in order to be better prepared the next time something like this may happen:
- Instating a reverse 911 system using the program, Global Connect. This system will send out recorded messages via phone or messages via text and email.
- Currently in place is the Union County First Alert System, which sends out alerts via text message or email.
- Improving the municipal infrastructure, adding generators and wireless technology. Also, possibly installing a generator at the library.
- Forming a Community Emergency Management Team(CERT). Many residents suggested the township going door-to-door to relay information, but Mahoney noted they simply do not have the manpower to do so. By using volunteer residents, this way of communication could be achieved.
- Improving communication with the business community. Many business owners live out of town and Mahoney has now reached out to them to obtain their contact information to keep them informed about their businesses.
- Lastly, the township will meet with the ministirium – which is the group of religious establishments and non-profits within town to combine resources in the wake of a disaster such as Sandy. Also, the township will try to share communication systems with the Board of Education.
At the Sandy Town Hall Forum, Mahoney began the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Following the moment of silence, Mahoney noted that the Connecticut tragedy was a human disaster and Superstorm Sandy was a natural disaster, which is something that can’t be controlled.
“It was immediately apparent to all of us in the state and especially in town here what a devastating storm that it actually was,” Mahoney said.
After 3 a.m. on Oct. 30, regular police patrol resumed and the damage around town was assessed. According to Mahoney, the damage was something they had never seen before in this community.
He said, trees or limbs struck around 50 homes; many of them suffered major damage. However, Mahoney said it was a blessing that no one was killed or seriously injured in Scotch Plains.
Mahoney took a moment to acknowledge the mayor and council members, as well as the Fire Department, Rescue Squad and department of public works for their hard work and volunteer efforts during the storm.
Except for the Scotch Plains Fire Chief, all fire fighters and rescue squad members are non-paid volunteers, many of which took time off of their regular jobs to assist the township following Sandy.
Representatives from PSE&G presented to the audience their statistics on Sandy and were available to answer any questions during the public forum.
According to Eileen Leahey of PSE&G, 1.7 million customers were without power due to Sandy, which is 77.3% customers. The outages were located in 200 different communities in the state. In Scotch Plains, 9,887 were without power.
In terms of communication, Leahey pointed out that the call centers took 2.3 million calls from customers and sent out 9,000 tweets. As well as 20 email updates, to those signed up to received them.
Also from PSE&G, Jack Bridges, outlined the company’s preparation and response for Sandy (for more on the PSE&G presentation, view the photos).
Bridges pointed out that beginning Oct. 23, PSE&G started preparing for the storm, which included protecting substations that flooded during Hurricane Irene. However, the preparation was not enough and many of the substations still encountered damage, including the Sewaren substation that serves Scotch Plains.
Before PSE&G can restore power to individual homes, they have to first completely fix their substations and transmission stations, as well as open some of their buildings, in order to assist customers.
The following PSE&G issues occurred in the wake of Superstorm Sandy:
- 14 switching stations were affected - 33%
(9 flooded, 4 out, 1 failure)
- 51 transmission lines - 33%
- 96 substations - 39%
(20 flooded and needed major repairs)
The shutting down of the Sewaren substation impacted most of Union County, Bridges said.
He added that in order to complete much of the restoration crews were brought in from all over the country. Which meant PSE&G also had to use staging areas for their trucks and equipment, as well as lodge and feed the workers.
As for what the company can do to prevent such massive power outages in the future, Bridges said the company is conducting studies on a variety of new ideas.
“We plan to strengthen our infrastructure to protect our substations for future weather events,” Bridges said.
Following the PSE&G presentation, members of FEMA and the Small Business Administration introduced themselves and told residents they would available following the meeting for any questions or assistance.
For a look at what residents had to say about the township's response to Sandy, read,