After having been through two tropical storms in two years, Montville officials have an idea of what is needed to continue to improve the township's response to large-scale weather events.
Suggestions made by the public were gathered and taken into consideration beginning with a special meeting on Nov. 10. Some of the ideas offered that day have already been put into action, as Township Administrator Victor Canning told the township committee on Nov. 13 that he has looked into one issue already where Sprint customers were unable to receive Nixle alerts on their phones.
Of the suggestions offered, many residents had said they wished the township communicated better after the storm. Resident Anjana Kapur took time away from celebrating Diwali to come to the township committee meeting on Nov. 13 to emphasize how she felt better communication was needed.
"If you were trying to call the township number, there was no response. Voicemails, at this point, are not a very good way of communicating," she said.
Kapur offered to help officials communicate with the pubic. But the township employees were not the only ones Kapur was concerned about when it came to communication. She was also displeased with communication from Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) and called their communication response "horrendous."
"They do not come to the phones, the managers do not respond back," she said.
Kapur was confident that as individuals, residents would not be able to get through to the utility company but that if the public officials pressured JCP&L, better communication could be achieved. In the days following the storm, officials said they too had trouble communicating with JCP&L and Mayor Tim Braden labeled the power restoration estimates the company was providing the township as "grossly inaccurate." Kapur said there should be some type of accountability for such issues on part of the power company.
Montville Township Board of Education Member Jackie Ritschel also spoke to the township committee about communication and said that she was pleased to hear that the concerns of residents from the Nov. 10 meeting were being taken under consideration. After the storm, she said residents were "literally and figuratively in the dark." But she said township officials needed to prepare not only in the short-term, but long-term as well.
"We are even more vulnerable now because it's now three storms that have been affecting these trees that are still standing," she said. "One more storm and I don't know what's going to happen."
As part of the township's storm communication plan, Canning said officials will host the public at the same time every day following a similar weather event.
"In the future, we will have a designated time every day until the event is over where you will be able to come here...we will hold daily press conferences to advise you of the latest daily information," Canning said.
Preparing the Township's Infrastructure for Future Storms
For the future, Canning said the township will be considering purchasing generators for critical buildings that do not yet have them and looking at upgrading the generators at buildings that do.
Currently some buildings' generators operate on diesel fuel. Canning said this could have been problematic considering the long lines at gas pumps and many stations running out of fuel. Instead, he recommended natural gas generators.
"If we ran into a fuel shortage problem like we did this time, we would not have to worry about keeping critical infrastructure up and running with natural gas-powered generators," he said.
Some of the discussion on Sandy response was centered around the work of township volunteers. Particularly commended was Montville Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Montville Township Police Lt. Rudy Appelmann.
"Lt. Appelmann bore the brunt of this disaster and I really appreciate the work that you put in," Braden said.
Braden said Appelmann worked for 10 days straight and noted that the township has not yet appointed an assistant OEM coordinator. Applemann also praised the township officials for working with him in the response.
"It was actually a very well-defined working relationship," he said.
One resident who spoke also praised the volunteers who helped run the comfort stations and shelters throughout the township after the storm. He said having them available was a huge help.
Township officials are planning to meet with department heads this week to begin to compile information for a post-storm assessment.