It was the first time the township has ever experienced a storm of its kind—and now, as the clean-up from Hurricane Sandy continues, it is time to reassess and make changes where necessary.
Residents have expressed concerns about the level of communication coming from the township during the storm, saying that they would like to see more avenues used.
And council president Allen Kurdyla said that that is what has to be explored now.
“I am of the opinion that this storm was an eye opener for everyone,” he said. “We are going to learn and try to come up with ways to improve communication in the future.”
With regard to who does the communicating, Kurdyla said there is a specific organizational structure followed involving emergency services and the mayor of the township.
The mayor by position, Kurdyla said, is the overall director of emergency services.
“We as council members, with regard to the Office of Emergency Management, do not have a role in the structure,” he said.
When the mayor and Office of Emergency Management declare an emergency, that opens the Emergency Operation Center (EOC).
“The OEM coordinator goes through a chart with people having defined responsibilities,” Kurdyla said. “They have contacts with the utilities and representatives.”
If anything needs to be done, Kurdyla said, it goes to the utilities through the EOC. And status reports go through the mayor and a public information officer.
“My feeling is any direction we get should be the mayor to the EOC to the council,” he said. “Then we can answer any questions that come up.”
But, Kurdyla said, the council is not the official conduit of information.
And during Hurricane Sandy, Kurdyla said, the mayor continuously issued statements through the township website.
But in this storm, the township learned that that website is not always available.
“Two weeks ago, I would have said the chances are low that we couldn’t contact by phone or that Internet service would be down,” he said. “We take so many things for granted.”
Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and suddenly residents were without Internet service, had trouble charging their phones and just couldn’t get the information as easily as usual.
One thing that could possibly be done, Kurdyla said, is to send radio announcements.
“[In emergency kits], they say to make sure to have a battery-powered radio,” he said. “But did we make announcements through public radio?”
At this point, Kurdyla said, the township has to regroup and figure out its next steps to improve its communication for the future.
And another point would be to determine where the council can fit into the EOC structure, Kurdyla said, so the members can be of service as well.
“We have to look at how we can address it better, and see if we can get the council members involved or get them more information,” he said. “There is a structure in place to address.”
Maybe there are considerations for text messaging announcements or other methods that would still work if service was down, Kurdyla said.
But at this point, Kurdyla said, it is about regrouping and trying to figure out what to do next.
“We should sit down and talk about what we could do better,” he said. “My personal feeling is we never thought the storm would impact us as much as it did utilities-wise and communications-wise.”
“I thought the job that was done was tremendous, but questions have come up,” he added. “When an event is over, we learn from it and try to identify the problems.”