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Irene Preparation 'Best We Could,' Police Chief Says

The police worked overtime during the storm.

It took several months to complete the cleanup of the township after Hurricane Irene battered the area in August 2011—but according to Bridgewater Township Police Chief Richard Borden, everything has been cleared.

“There are no lasting effects from the storm from a police standpoint,” he said. “The cleanup experience took place over the course of several months.”

According to Borden, after the storm, which lasted from Aug. 27 through Aug. 28, residents put debris from flooded homes and downed trees out on township streets.

“The Department of Public Works did an excellent job with cleanup efforts working essentially seven days for months after the storm,” he said. “The damage was excessive.”

But, Borden said, the power situation caused the most havoc for the police department itself, with every area of the township impacted, some for about two to six weeks.

“When power goes out, it is usually caused by fallen trees, which were in the hundreds, or general damage to transmitter boxes,” he said. “Obviously once power is gone, traffic signals become inoperable, alarm systems are deactivated and telephone communication is impacted.”

Borden said the velocity of the rain itself caused roadways that normally don’t flood to see high levels of water. And, he said, vehicles were on roads that, minutes before they entered, were not at all flooded.

“Obviously we had long advanced warning of the storm, but no one ever knows the severity until it actually hits your area,” he said.

With the storm itself, Borden said, the flooding in Irene was not quite as severe as Hurricane Floyd in 1999, but conditions were very different. First of all, he said, there was more flash flooding with Irene, with a great deal of velocity in the rain over a short time.

“Floyd’s flooding and damage was committed over a longer period of time, whereas Irene’s damage was fast and furious,” he said.

Plus, Borden said, the timing of the two storms was different.

“Floyd occurred on a weekday, compared to Irene beginning on a Saturday evening,” he said. “Obviously with Floyd, more people were working and impacted by not being home, compared to Irene, which started during the evening hours and had cleared the area by Sunday afternoon.”

But the biggest difference involved the affects to the New Jersey American Water site, which was completely engulfed during Floyd, but not during Irene.

“This has since been upgraded, though Irene did cause the water company concern,” Borden said. “Water distribution was a major undertaking following Floyd, as giant water trucks were positioned in our police department parking lot for weeks.”

And in both storms, Borden said, it was all about the Raritan River.

“There were more water rescues, primarily on the Bound Brook border because of the flooding situation,” he said. “Floyd was not accompanied by the winds that were expected, hence the power outages were more widespread during Irene.”

The department, Borden said, had enough personnel and officers to work during Irene, and they did so beyond their normal hours. And from there, he said, they had a second communication center in a conference room to handle an over-abundance of phone calls.

Prior to the storm, Borden said, the police department met with members of the Local Emergency Response Team, including members of the Red Cross, Office of Emergency Management, township officials, engineers, township residents and more.

“I think we were prepared as best we could be,” he said.

But despite that, Borden said, he does believe they learned that the most important thing to remember is you can never plan “too much” for these kinds of emergencies.

“Though we were prepared for the hurricane, it did not negate the fact that widespread long-term power outages causes collateral damage that last for months following the incident,” he said. “You can be fully prepared for a weather-related emergency, yet factors arise that are totally out of your control.”

Borden said they could not know how fast utility companies would respond to scenes, how fast trees would fall or anything else. But they needed to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, he said.

“Working in unison with Bridgewater OEM, which had a command center located in our headquarters, many essential services were placed on stand-by if the need arose,” he said.

And for residents themselves, Borden said, the biggest piece of advice is to stay off roadways and highways in these kinds of storms unless they are told to evacuate.

“If there is a true state of emergency declared, there is no reason, other than a medical emergency, to be out on the roads during this time period,” he said.

In addition, Borden said, it is important to be prepared for not having power for prolonged periods of time. This includes, he said, having bottled water available, batteries, food essentials and possibly even a back-up generator.

“And if possible, place automobiles in a garage or off the roadway,” he said.

Mike August 23, 2012 at 02:27 PM
I would like to see a list of things learned from Irene in terms of emergency management. What changes were made as a result of this experience? For example, can we improve communications to the public during and after?

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