Sandy Taught Us to Communicate Better, Administrator Says

Township discusses goals for handling similar emergency events in the future.

Montville officials are expecting to be more prepared for another emergency event like Superstorm Sandy after Township Administrator Victor Canning presented an assessment of the township's response and goals for the future during Tuesday's committee meeting.

"Obviously, we learned a lot after this past storm," Canning said. "One thing was clear to us: we could have done a better job communicating."

Communication was an area covered extensively in the assessment after dozens of residents approached the township committee during a special Saturday meeting and noted how they felt communication on part of the township could have been improved. According to the assessment, township officials felt they did succeed in getting information to the public well through resources like Nixle, a printed flier that was distributed and the township's website. However, Canning said the township does plan to enhance communication efforts for the future.

This includes creating a Facebook page to connect with residents through social media. Canning noted that the page will be used in a "one-sided" fashion and only to disseminate important information when needed. The township is also planning to implement a telephone line residents would be able to call for essential information and in another emergency event like Sandy, officials would host daily press conferences.

While many of the communication improvements can be implemented within a short amount of time, some of the recommended goals that resulted from the assessment would require a longer timeframe and higher cost. One goal is to commit resources to the Senior House so that it can be used as a primary shelter. Following Sandy, residents sought shelter at Montville Township High School, but only when the school did not yet resume classes.

"They had to get the students back into school and we had to juggle that towards the end of the emergency," Interim Township Administrator Adam Brewer told the committee.

One goal is to create shower facilities and to install a power generator at the Senior House to maximize its potential as a shelter. Generator upgrades to natural gas in the township municipal building, public safety building and building at 86 River Road were also recommended. But Township Commiteeman Jim Sandham cautioned that a new generator could cost about $250,000 and said that before the township makes a purchase toward them, officials should devise a more precise plan for where they are needed most.

"I think it should be a more targeted approach," he said.

The assessment noted that restoration of power was in the hands of Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) following the storm.

"Although frustrating for residents and staff, the township does not control power generation for the community. Increased communication with JCP&L is necessary," the report said.

Montville officials have said numerous times that they were not pleased with the company's communication response. Canning told committee members Tuesday the township has come together with other Morris County municipalities in trying to force JCP&L to be more accountable.

"We clearly want, from the BPU, conditions placed upon JCP&L whereby we will be guaranteed that they're going to do a full assessment of their infrastructure," Canning said. "We want something tangible."

To see the full post-Sandy assessment drafted by township officials, click here.


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