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Aberdeen Police Chief Discusses Emergency Communication Issues During Sandy with Residents

The township will be evaluating ways to improve communications during an emergency after losing power, phone and internet after Sandy.

For a society who relies on communicating through text messages, emails, phone calls, Tweets and Facebook posts, the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 30 was a bit of a culture shock.

There was no power, no TV, no internet access, no cell phone service and very few people had working landlines.

Residents found themselves both literally and figuratively in the dark. They were unable to reach out to family members, unable to receive Code Red alerts from Aberdeen Township and had no idea where to get water, ice, or a hot meal. They didn’t know whether or not trash would be collected, when power would be restored, or where they could go for help or to help.

“Everything is based on internet access. Those of us with no power had no internet and no contact, no nothing. It’s like we need to go back to the old fashion way. How did we help people before the internet?” said a Beach Drive resident at a public information meeting at town hall Thursday night.

“I’m not pointing fingers. It’s just something to think of in a massive emergency like what we’ve been through, and hopefully dear god will never go through again. To rely on the internet was useless for most of us,” she continued.

Aberdeen Chief of Police John Powers, who sat at the dais alongside several township officials, acknowledged the challenges faced after Sandy.

“We’ve become, even in the police department, too dependent on [the internet]. We got into some bad habits because of that and I think that’s a great point and it’s well taken. We learned that if this happens again we have to do a better job on getting the information out and not relying on internet or phones for that matter,” Powers said.

According to Powers, the damage from Sandy spelled out serious challenges for the police department. The township’s email accounts were not sending or receiving emails properly and there was no internet or 3G cell service. Town hall was being run on a generator that was only able to power the police department and as the only public building with power, the township was unable to offer a warming or charging center until several days after the storm. The township was also unable to fuel their police, Department of Works, and fire and first aid vehicles as the gas stations were also without power.

In addition to explaining the issues faced by the department, Powers took accountability and promised to work toward a solution.

“I’m the emergency management coordinator,” Powers said. “Whatever shortcomings there were, whatever mistakes were made, and there were mistakes made, I take the responsibility for it. Nobody is responsible but me, and together we’ve already had discussions over the past week about what we need to change, what we need to fix and what we need to do better.”

“All I can say to you is we will make the necessary changes and we will make things better and we will do a better job next time,” he added.

Powers emphasized the importance of people signing up with their cell phone numbers, home phone numbers and email addresses for the Code Red Alert system. The system was used multiple times before and after the storm, however if a home has an unlisted phone number it cannot be automatically added to the system. And, with many phone lines down, it’s important to have a back-up way for the township to reach its residents.

Going forward, the township plans to examine alternative ways to distribute imperative information during a crisis. Some of the ideas offered by residents at the meeting included establishing an AM radio station and distributing the call letters before the storm as well as enlisting the post office or community volunteers to help police go door-to-door to distribute fliers and check on residents.

At the end of the meeting, many left their contact information for the township so they may be called upon as volunteers in the future.

Editor’s note: Aberdeen Township has a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) composed of residents of both Aberdeen and Matawan with approximately 25 members. CERT was activated during the storm to assist the Emergency Office of Communications in fielding calls and contacting JCP&L (LINK). If you would like to join CERT, contact coordinator Herb Caravella at aberdeencert@yahoo.com.

Arbordale Drive November 09, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I've had no dealings with Chief Powers, however, Deputy Chief Derechailo was extremely courteous and helpful towards my wife yesterday - giving her constant updates regarding the continued outage in the cliffwood section - went as far as to ride through the neighborhood and actually spoke to linemen who were working on Ocean Blvd. putting in new poles and lines that supply greenwood and lakeshore - and then e-mailing my wife two or three times with new updates. The power has yet to return but nonetheless his dilligence and follow through gave us the only glimmer of hope we've had for the past 12 days - the deputy chief needs to be promoted. Thank you again from the folks on Arbordale Drive.
Nikki November 09, 2012 at 08:12 PM
any news on the I and J section/area off of Van Brackle? Staying with in law - I wanna go home!
Bob Goodwin Jr November 09, 2012 at 08:42 PM
As of 4:30 pm the I section got power!
Ed Rooney November 09, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Abordale or greenwood or lakeshore or concourses?
Richard Eisenbeis November 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I commend Chief Powers for accepting responsibility for Aberdeen's post-Sandy emergency problems. This was an extraodinary natural catastrophy and left us with never before seen or imagined damage. Its nice, for a change, seeing someone not "pass the buck" even though I'm sure it should have been in many cases. Keep up the good work.
Barzillai November 10, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I'd like The Patch to follow up to see that Chief Powers is taking his OEM responsibilities seriously. Check to see that he and his coordinators are taking training offererd by FEMA. See if he is sending his staff for federal and state-wide training exercises offered by DHS and other agencies. Look to see that CERT is functioning -- meeting regularly, adequately funded, and otherwise supported at the local and regional levels. There needs to be some accountability and The Patch can certainly make sure the public knows whether the police department is following through on rectifying the many gaps in their emergency preparedness program. Sure, infrastructure failed us, but so did our emergency services. We need constant updates and dogged investigation of their efforts or lack thereof so we can either be assured that our interests are being looked after and changes are underway, or that we need to get rid of some people and find some new people who can get the job done.
David Behrens Sr November 12, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Because someone has to take charge. Someone has to be reasonable and using common sense has to setup a way to deliver the information to those in need. when the storm clears and you're left with the outage you have to get into police cars. You use bull horns. You use whatever means necessary to relay information to those affected. You have a liason person who's sole job is to coordinate information with the power companies. You make sure the numbers to those individuals are up to date and that they stay in communication with your town. Lack of information breeds frustration and rumors. It breeds a lack of hope and brings on fears and anger. When power is out information is key.

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