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 firstname.lastname@example.org.