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Aronsohn: Village Hall's Lack of Storm Communication with Residents 'Unacceptable'

Many are critical of the village's communication efforts in the strange snowstorm of October 2011

As the village completes the fourth day of the 2011 October snowstorm, many residents are trying to keep warm in blankets, wondering when the lights will return and what Public Service and village officials are doing.

Power has been restored to the vast majority of the village by Tuesday night, and RHS was juiced at around 7:00 p.m. With the .

Resident Tim Graham, who said he was understanding the extent of damage makes it difficult for responders, expressed issue with communication from local officials. He was just one of many.

"What's frustrating is the sense of detachment you get from Village Hall over the situation," Graham said Tuesday night. "They don't seem to be taking ownership of this."

Councilman Paul Aronsohn agreed communication between 131 N. Maple and residents has been spotty.

"Our first responders have been working around the clock and have been doing an outstanding job. This was a particularly dangerous storm, but our public safety folks proved that they were equal to the task," Aronsohn said.

"That said, there clearly could have been more and better communication coming out of Village Hall. For the first 48 hours, there was no reverse 911 call, no email to residents and no use of the portable police sign. That's unacceptable."

Safety issues, lack of response

In one of the worst-hit areas of Ridgewood, residents say safety issues are even more pronounced.

"If Fire or EMS needed to get down my block, they would not be able," said resident Mitchell Kaplan, of Gateway Road. Kaplan added there are also no markings indicating the closure or dangers.

"It's very disappointing Gateway Road is still not passable," he said Tuesday afternoon, adding he too understood the village has been extraordinarily busy. "PSE&G has been fabulous," Kaplan said, "But the town has been nowhere to be seen."

Kaplan said Village Manager Ken Gabbert told him by e-mail crews would be there to work on Tuesday afternoon. Though appreciative Gabbert responded quickly, Kaplan reported Tuesday night that workers never showed.

When will trees, branches be cleared?

"Tree-wise, it could be worse than Hurricane Irene," Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser said of the storm Tuesday afternoon. He said the best comparison to "Snowtober" would be the March 2010 storm, which similarly shut power down for days as tree branches dotted the landscape.

Once the powerlines are de-energized and deemed safe by the utility, tree crews will clear roads of downed trees and limbs, according to Rutishauser. Most expect PSE&G to have fixed outages by Thursday. The top engineer could not provide a timetable as to when the major branch cleanup would occur.

"It's very difficult to say," he remarked, adding there have been nearly 300 wire and tree problems reported as of Tuesday afternoon. "We've got a lot of work to do and it could be weeks until we get everything cleared up."

Further east, Marshall Street was again beaten by the weather though basements were dry in the lowland street. "It looks like a Tolkien war zone," said resident Shaun Goellner. "All you hear up and down the street is the rumble of generators."

Without power, Goellner has been snuggling up in a fleece with several blankets. "We've gotten no response from PSE&G or the village," he said.

No information better than 'misinformation'? 

The village continues to work through issues, Mayor Keith Killion said, adding the early weather reports didn't match what ensued on Saturday and Sunday.

"The village is putting up whatever information we have [on the website]. Misinformation is worse than no information," the mayor told Patch. "People want instant communication these days but you have to get the right message. And that takes a bit of time."

The village has tweeted developments and posted refuse changes on the website. Additionally, reverse 911 calls were sent out but they came on Monday afternoon, which many residents said wasn't terribly helpful with phone lines down and power out.

"We're not getting any more information from public service than the residents are," the mayor said. "The village has scrambled and mobilized best it could."

Councilman: We need to review what went right, what went wrong

Kevin Shea, a resident in the Willard section, suggested a change in locale for technology.

"If Ridgewood has its website hosted on a server in Ridgewood, they should really move it so it can be used as a communication platform in the future," Shea suggested to Patch. The village website was down for several hours on Monday.

Aronsohn said the village needs to seriously analyze how it responds to disaster situations and how it gets the message out. "We need to review what went right and what went wrong, and then we need to fix it," he said.

"We need to do better."

Village Manager Ken Gabbert did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Jennifer Contrucci November 02, 2011 at 02:23 AM
In this age of technology, the fact that the Ridgewood Village official website did not maintain daily updates is unacceptable. I get a reverse 911 phone call every time there is a drought and I cannot water my lawn, yet there is nothing communicated about the status of tree removal or power restoration. Pretty crummy job by our village council.
Boyd A. Loving November 02, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Unfortunately, reverse 911 and reverse e-mails would not have helped too much during this particular event because many people had no phone, no computer, and no smartphone (all dead because of no power).
JAMES ALLEN November 02, 2011 at 02:54 AM
I agree with you Jennifer...it is rather disheartnening that the only Village Council member to respond to our 'non partisan' Village Council, is a devout liberal who by his own blog notes "spent several years working on foreign policy and national security issues as a member of the Clinton Administration"...Where is everyone else? This 'village' has been impacted like no other storm I have seen in my lifetime however I have lived in 4 other municipalities (all partisan) in New Jersey which have all weathered much worse and more publicly with input from far beyond their most liberal members despite their access or lack thereof to the mainstream media.
Jennifer Contrucci November 02, 2011 at 02:56 AM
While that is true, most people I know found ways to check home voice mail, peruse the town website and stay in touch. Not really a reason for the town to be out of touch with its residents. The schools had no problem reaching me to let me know of closings and I just got power back about 40 minutes ago.
JAMES ALLEN November 02, 2011 at 03:07 AM
Agreed but Mr. Aronshohn by his statement has made this partisan by his statement "That said, there clearly could have been more and better communication coming out of Village Hall. For the first 48 hours, there was no reverse 911 call, no email to residents and no use of the portable police sign. That's unacceptable."...seems to be a complaint after the fact with no answer for how things should have been in place since Mr. Aronsohn has been in office...how does he distinguish himself from the Village and its response?
T. Powers November 02, 2011 at 12:07 PM
I don't see how being a "devout liberal" has any bearing on this conversation. If there is a problem with communication that could be improved, it isn't a partisan issue - it is everyone's issue.
Balka Kuhn November 02, 2011 at 12:14 PM
It's Thursday morning...hark, I hear a chain saw down the street, for the first time since the storm hit....maybe it's my imagination.
Bill Grae November 02, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Devout liberal? Oh, for crying out loud, save your cheap shots for some other context. Trying to spin a conscientious concern about serving the community into some kind of partisan insinuation lacks be justified. We live in a village where power, phone and cable-TV lines remain above ground. PSEG's infrastructure here is 45 years out of date. Swaths of the east side go dark whenever a strong wind blows or a thunderstorm rolls in. That should be the focus of post-storm inquiries.
Bill Grae November 02, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Need an editor. That should be "cannot be justified.". Darn tiny BlackBerry screen.
JAMES ALLEN November 02, 2011 at 01:08 PM
You have misunderstood my points. It is unfortunate that the ONLY council member speaking out is the most non-partisan and media darling, liberal editorial writing, Mr. Aronsohn. Where is everyone else?
Terry Hunter November 02, 2011 at 01:27 PM
You can't rely on technology when it's down...cable, internet, phones...that's not helpful unless every resident has a smart phone which some may not. The sign outside the village hall and possibly a disaster help desk set up at village hall would have been better...in power outtages you need people, not technology...
Payin' Taxes November 02, 2011 at 01:53 PM
The next person that says anyone "is working around the clock" should be jailed. There is little to no work being done during sunlight in the VAST majority of affected areas, FORGET ABOUT "AROUND THE CLOCK." If you see a crew out working at any time of the day, you are a lucky person. Your next stop should be a lottery terminal.
KC November 02, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Jeez- This Ridgewood Patch website seems to be workinig just fine and could be the perfect place to disseminate info to residents if anyone at Village Hall really wanted to expend effort to reach out to residents. Even if they could not provide any answers, at least demonstrating that they understood the scope of the problem and articulating their plan would have helped. PSEG is a public utility and is doing its thing. You can't tell me all the administrators this town pays for had to spend all their time helping PSEG do their job and had no time for anything else. The mayor should have shown some leadership. If anything, kudos to Fishbein for making official statements about his schools and taking a view on issues such as trick or treating in the dark and around debris and downed power lines (although I do wish school closure announcements were done before the sun goes down to allow parents adequate time to prepare). The Village just had Irene not 3 months ago. If there were to lessons to be learned from that, that was a perfect time to figure it out. Otherwise, what the heck were you doing since then?
Harlan Consider November 02, 2011 at 04:24 PM
All the folks I know were able to keep their cell/smart phones up with occasional chargings using their cars.
Michael November 02, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Mr. Aronsohn - You ARE Village Hall. So, are you self-criticizing? Government is not the solution to our weather problems. PSE&G was calling. BOE was calling. Read the Patch, The Ridgewood Blog, NorthJersey.com, The Record, etc. If you grew up in the 60's, you only had a fire whistle to alert you of school closings. These past few days, you could barely travel one or two blocks without seeing a tree, limb or wire down. What did we expect - a wave of a wand and it would all be fixed? It was a natural weather event. Most recently, Irene gave us a lesson in weather preparedness and if you didn't take heed, then I guess that's your problem. A week from now, virtually everything will be back in place and this will be a story to tell our kids.
Graydon4ever November 02, 2011 at 07:46 PM
in Willard, nary a Village truck/ crew nor a PSE&G truck/crew has been spotted. A number of streets are still without power, 4 days and counting. Much of the rest of the Village is back on power. This is not the first time Willard was the last neighborhood cleared or back up on power - yet we pay our real estate taxes the same time as everyone else.
Dot November 02, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Hi, We agree with Paul Aronsohn who says we need more communication to the residents of Ridgewood. We felt left out after Hurricane Irene. We wished there was better follow up after the flood, and also this Norheaster snow storm. We would like to be informed regularly of the clean up plans of the HoHoKus Brook of the debris and the inspection of the bridges which are damaged throughout Ridgewood. The debris slammed into the bridges and caused erosion and possible damage to the bridges. Since the last Noreaster of this past weekend snowstorm, we are noticing even more damage. We think the Village is trying, but we notice a disconnect with the BOE to the residents. We don't feel the BOE is communicating enough with the residents about the astroturf fields, and the fields clean up costs. We would like to have meetings with the BOE and also the engineers who told us the astroturf were safe for our neighborhood and children.
T. Powers November 02, 2011 at 10:58 PM
I always thought that the west side of town near Willard had many more older, very tall trees. Maybe that is part of the problem with the power? Where I live, near Hawes school, our trees seem to be smaller.
Craig Hueneke November 02, 2011 at 11:23 PM
T. Powers - You know what I also noted on Sunday morning when I ventured out to hunt down a hot cup of coffee, is that the slight difference in altitude between Godwin and the top of Glen, there was a noticeable difference between the amount of snow and ice on the trees/leaves. I think that the size of the trees as well as the difference in altitude may have also been a contributing factor. Even more so when this storm walked that thin line along 32 degrees.
Joe November 03, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Dot: There is no Astroturf on the fields. It's FieldTurf -- very different animal. And are you serious? More meetings? There were so many meetings when the turf was being planned, voted, argued, again and again. It is safe for your neighborhood and children. Let's move on. This most recent storm had no impact on the fields and in fact the kids were playing football and soccer even while the high school was dark.
Gary J Negrycz November 03, 2011 at 11:05 AM
We sound like a lot of spoiled children this is life not a TV show Problems do no get solved in an hour minus Commercials meaningless instantaneous blahther. Is not Communication its noise. The single wire that feeds a block gets repaired. Before a single wire to a house. streets get cleaned after PSE&G says they are cleared of live wires insread of asking others why they aren't doing exactly what you want when you want it ask what am I doing to improve the situation
Lisa Kender November 04, 2011 at 05:28 AM
Phone service was available during the power outage as long as you had a land line phone that plugs directly into the phone jack (not a wireless handset). I purchased several after the northeast blackout in 2002(?) and assume you can still buy them. Further, lots of stores/catalogs sell crank radios which do not require batteries to operate and solar chargers for smart phones. Village communications have improved significantly in the 17 years that I have lived here, but I agree that we should continue to make improvements as it seems likely that we will experience other severe weather events in the future.

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