Jeremy Kleiman, the coordinator of Ridgewood’s Office of Emergency Management, told the village council in a presentation last Wednesday that critical steps have been taken since the storm to keep residents more informed before and after a weather emergency.
In the last year, he said, the OEM has registered about 2,400 residents for its emergency alert system, which sends out information on severe weather events and other emergencies through email and text message. Officials strongly encouraged residents to sign up for the system, which they said is more targeted and effective than older reverse 911 systems.
The village has also applied for FEMA grants to provide generators to several buildings, including a few schools and the library, which serve as critical shelters during extended power outages.
During Sandy, Kleiman said, “We realized our shelter locations don’t have generator power.”
To some, the prolonged outages in the wake of Sandy demonstrated weaknesses in communication between the municipality and PSE&G, the utility that serves Ridgewood. As emergency personnel proceeded with the recovery effort, officials said at the time, a lack of information on downed wires slowed their ability to safely clear streets.
“During Superstorm Sandy, our biggest complaint with PSE&G was the lack of clear, correct information coming from the utility,” Mayor Paul Aronsohn wrote in an email. “We have since worked with our PSE&G colleagues to remedy that situation, and my hope and expectation is that PSE&G’s communications will be better going forward.”
The work included meetings with the utility and a “lessons learned” forum between residents, PSE&G and Ridgewood officials last March.
On the ground level, the village continues to seek volunteers in addition to the dozen who have already enrolled in a newly created Community Emergency Response Team. Part of a broader community policing initiative by the Ridgewood Police Department, the program gained traction after Sandy, Chief John Ward said.
Team members, who go through about 60 hours of training at the expense of the county, will take stock of the needs and assets of their neighborhoods so that, during a disaster, they can provide information on local conditions as well as coordinate between nearby residents in navigating the aftermath of an emergency.
Ward said that, as with any major storm in its past, the department has seen ways to improve on emergency management.
“We’re real good at emergency operations,” he said. “Recovery operations, in terms of learning where people are that need help – that’s an area where we can use technology.”
The department is working with Ramapo College and WTH Technology, a company that specializes in crime and weather mapping, to implement a system that will show officials in the village’s emergency operations center the location of closed streets, downed wires and other critical information in real time. CERT members will be helpful in gathering some of that information, Ward said.
An emergency planning guide, available electronically at the village website, was also updated earlier this year for the first time in a decade.
Ultimately, Kleiman said, preparations for future emergencies depend largely on residents familiarizing themselves with that guide, and taking steps to become “self-reliant” in the event that severe weather again throws havoc upon day-to-day life.
The official advised having a preparedness kit with batteries, medicine and enough nonperishable food and water for 72 hours, and to explore making arrangements with out-of-state friends and family in the event that a large storm is predicted to cause extensive damage or outages.
From the municipality’s
perspective, officials were confident that their initiatives have made Ridgewood better prepared than a year ago for a potential emergency.
“I am confident that we are better prepared,” Aronsohn said, noting the steps already taken and additional meetings scheduled to continue “proactively.”“We have learned from our experience with Superstorm Sandy – what worked well and what could be improved.”