Grading Your Town’s Response to Sandy
If you had to grade your town’s officials on how they handled the storm and its aftermath, what grade would you give them?
Some mayors and township officials were in front of things…while others were hamstrung with the lack of electricity and manpower to adequately handle the crisis.
In Manalapan, Mayor Susan Cohen of did an exceptional job allaying residents’ concerns over power…keeping JCP&L officials constantly updated on the extent of the outages in the township as well as providing her own cell phone number to residents if they had any concerns…and continually updating the township’s Facebook page.
She, along with the many volunteers who manned the township's crisis center get an A+!
A good many mayors second guessed their efforts once all the heavy lifting was done.
When Mayor Bill Akers reviews the way tiny Seaside Heights responded to Hurricane Sandy he is unsparing in his criticism.
Of Bill Akers.
He says, "I could have done a lot better," he said. "I was overwhelmed. I know I have my shortcomings, but it’s not for lack of effort and not for lack of caring."
Akers thought he was doing all the right things.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, the mayor says he has regrets.
He could, he says, have stopped by one of the shelters to speak to residents personally. He would have communicated information sooner. He should have set
Interviews with residents and local officials show that in the days after Sandy, some towns got creative. They put in extra effort, pounded the pavement to get residents up-to-date information and had a sense of where conditions were headed.
In other towns when the power went out, the lines of communication were shut down, leaving residents confused and in the dark.
About 90 percent of Mountainside lost power when Sandy struck. Much of the Union County borough remained out 10 days later. Residents said they were disappointed they had no power, but furious that their elected leaders seemed out of touch.
With little official information from the borough, scores of residents posted on the Mountainside Recreation Department’s Facebook page. The borough does not have its own page. Some of the posts were vicious, anger boiling over.
Just one town over, in Westfield, residents had a completely different experience. They were also hit hard. About three-fourths of the township lost power during the storm. But in Westfield elected officials were far more proactive.
Westfield’s website was updated regularly, as was the township’s Twitter feed, @TownOfWestfield.
Mayor Andy Skibitsky hosted two dial-in conference calls.
The first, Saturday night, had 4,600 phones connected, he said. On the line was a representative from PSE&G, a freeholder, the fire chief, police chief, public health officer and township administrator. The conference calls are archived on the township’s website.
Of course, not everyone has a land line or a Twitter account, so councilmen took to the streets and handed out fliers at supermarkets and coffee shops. High school students were drafted to hand fliers out in sections of town.
Parsippany was similarly active, providing a slew of updates via social media, e-mail and, where necessary, by going door to door.
Mayor Jamie Barberio and the police let residents know which roads were closed, when power might be expected, even that Halloween was rescheduled.
Barberio said he feels news, even bad news, is better than no news.
Scotch Plains mayor Mary DePaola, said she is very unhappy with how her borough performed.
"How do you contact 23,000 residents when there is no power, no TV, no telephone, no e-mail and let them know what’s going on?" she asked.
It’s a question Scotch Plains failed to answer before Sandy. The borough, DePaola said, didn’t have in place reverse-911 calls or a way to get those calls to residents’ cell phones. That will be fixed, she said.
She said a report is being written on how to do better next time.
Hopefully “next time” won’t be anywhere near as catastrophic at this time.
However, these are the moments leaders either rise to the occasion or fall flat on their faces.
Everyone remembers the image of “America’s Mayor” Giuliani in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
And more recently, the ubiquitous Governor Christie holding press conferences throughout the storm and its aftermath.
Did you get the same feeling that your town’s officials were on top of things, or do you feel they were "MIA"?