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Thank You to All Who Helped After Hurricane

Letter to the editor from Jane Asch, OEM Coordinator

The Warren Township Office of Emergency Management would like to recognize and thank Mayor Carolann Garafola, the Warren Township Committee, the Township employees, the First Responder agencies, their employees and volunteers who reacted courageously and tirelessly to the response and the recovery of Superstorm Sandy, the most powerful storm to strike Warren Township in recent memory. As a result of the impact of the storm, the majority of Warren Township residents experienced lengthy power outages with some residents losing electricity for two weeks. Our thoughts are with the Warren residents whose homes were totally destroyed or suffered extensive damage as a result of the storm, and with the many area businesses seriously impacted by the power outages. 

Warren Township First Responders including the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Public Works and the Rescue Squad continually prepare for emergency events and disasters.  Preparations for Superstorm Sandy began in 2011 as a result of knowledge gained from the experiences of Hurricane Irene and the Halloween Nor’easter, and the Warren Township Office of Emergency Management has initiated many improvements since last year including better communications with the residents, improved information/warming centers, and Register Ready. In addition, many more cell phones were added by residents for the Reverse 911 calls. In the days prior to the storm, OEM worked closely with Mayor Garafola and the LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) in pre storm preparatory meetings, setting emergency response measures in place, and  contacting special needs facilities in the Register Ready program to help them prepare.  Before the storm began, an Emergency Operations Center was open at Police Headquarters, and then maintained for two weeks by OEM CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers who answered  hundreds of calls to give information and necessary aid to those in need, tracked road conditions by coordinating with Police and the Department of Public Works to create maps of down trees and wires, documented damage assessment, provided routes for emergency vehicles, monitored road openings and followed power restoration as it returned. Streets with downed wires and broken pole numbers were forwarded to the utility companies on a daily basis. OEM CERT volunteers operated multiple warming and information centers, and with the congregant volunteers opened and ran an overnight shelter at Stonecrest Church for 3 days.  Coordinating ongoing communication from FEMA, NJ State OEM, Somerset County OEM, and neighboring townships, the Emergency Operating Center continually updated information to the Town and Police websites, wrote and distributed flyers to the information centers and local press, and every day created messages for the R911 calls. Twice daily multi agency meetings were held in the EOC, as well as participation in daily conference calls with JCP&L and PSE&G, and Governor Christie. Warren Township OEM will again hold debriefing meeting with all agencies in the coming weeks in its quest to continue to improve emergency response and recovery procedures.

Mayor Carolann Garafola, and the Township Committee, worked unfailingly for the interval of the storm and its aftermath. Mayor Garafola took, documented and returned 250 calls from residents as well as answered numerous emails, and was regularly present in the Courtroom warming center providing updated information to the residents, often opening and closing the center. The Mayor also participated in multiple daily conference calls of PSEG, JCPL, and the Governor, as well as sent emails documenting concerns to Senator Tom Kean, Jr., and Assemblypersons Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz.  She held interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, John Patten of the Warren Patch, cable TV channel 15, and spoke every day with the Governor’s aide about Warren’s situation.

Township Committee member, Gary DiNardo and business owner of DiNardo’s gas station, made sure Township First Responder employees and volunteers had fuel to go home and make it back to serve the Township, took gasoline to fuel generators at the homes of elderly and special needs residents, directed traffic, and set up the Stonecrest shelter with extension cords off the generator so it had lights in the building.  

Mick Marion, George Lazo and Vic Sordillo of the Township Committee attended many meetings in the EOC, worked with Township staff to report back on damage, and met with residents in the warming centers and at their homes to answer questions and offer aid.

Working with Mick Marion, Andrew Marion, head of Watchung Hills Pop Warner, and Jeffrey Smith, head of Watchung Hills Soccer Association generously offered the use of the field light towers, which were used as generators for special needs facilities, the shelter at Stonecrest, and at First Responder buildings without power. The light towers as generators were indispensable in the response efforts.

Throughout the duration of the storm and the aftermath, members of the Warren Township Police Department, under the command of Police Chief Russell Leffert, responded without fail to all emergency and non-emergency calls for service. During the period of the fuel shortage, Police Officers provided assistance for crowd and traffic control at gas stations as well as supplied extra patrols and security at the shelter. Members of the Police Department also completed welfare checks on individuals whose family members called from out of town or out of state unable to establish contact due to phone and power outages. Police Officers delivered food and water to families in need, and assisted special needs individuals with many essentials. Police Officers supported the Warren Department of Public Works and the utility companies with traffic control, and provided to them important guidance and direction on road closures, downed wires, and power outages which hastened the return of electricity to the residents.   

Personnel of the Department of Public Works, under the supervision of Superintendent Doug Buro and Deputy Superintendent Mike Lovett, worked all but a few hours during the actual storm clearing roads of downed trees and fallen debris. Within twenty four hours after the storm, all debris and tress not wrapped in wires had been removed from the roads. DPW workers are not allowed to touch trees with wires, but as the utility crews arrived in Warren restoring wires, DPW followed them continuing to clear and open roads. When the Nor’easter storm dumped several inches of snow so soon after Sandy, DPW quickly shifted gears to plow sand and salt the roads. The Department is still working today chipping branches and debris stacked by the residents next to the side of the road.

Under the leadership of Fire Chief Michael LoSapio, the Warren Township Volunteer Fire Department responded to emergency events throughout the interval of the storm, and the subsequent two weeks that followed. They fought multiple engulfed dwelling fires, responded to approximately 50 carbon monoxide detector incidents, directed traffic, assisted utility crews, pumped basements and performed life-safety assessments of structural issues. The Warren Township Fire Department was able to provide a guaranteed staff in each fire house during this entire time period, and many members put the safety and well-being of others far ahead of their own.

The Warren Township Rescue Squad under the direction of Capt. Marc Davis, First Lt. Jane Kelsey and President Paul Rapps provided continuous emergency ambulance services to local hospitals during the storm as well as in the critical hours after the storm passed. Emergency Medical Technicians delivered oxygen tanks to Township residents who needed supplemental oxygen when electrical oxygen concentrator machines would not work. Rescue Squad volunteers created and staffed a much needed rehabilitation center at their building to provide First Responders and emergency workers with a safe place to sleep and rest, take showers, and eat. They served donated food and cooked nutritious hot meals to First Responders on duty for long shifts. Many members of the rescue squad additionally volunteered their time to work with OEM in the EOC.

The Office of Emergency Management would also like to thank and acknowledge the generosity of the following people, businesses and organizations:

  • Mark Krane, our unsung Township Administrator, who worked tirelessly and calmly behind the scenes to solve any and all issues.
  • The Warren Township Employees at the Municipal Building who answered phones, met with residents, and worked persistently to find answers to help others.
  • Jeff Heiss, Township Construction Official, and his office who expedited permits and damage assessment visits to assist residents, and assure their safety.
  • Carolyn Della Salla, Library Director of the Warren Township Library and the wonderful Library Staff who graciously opened their doors as a warming center allowing residents to obtain information and charge electrical devises.
  • Warren Township Board of Education Superintendent Tami Crader, who made sure there was a warming center opened at one of the elementary schools for students and parents to get out of the house, meet with others, warm up, charge lap tops and cell phones, play in the gym, or create an art project. Sincere thanks to the many teachers, maintenance staff and parents who volunteered their time, energy and who donated food to make the centers successful.
  • Special heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Reverend Jeff Heinaman, Reverend Brent Haggerty, and the many Stonecrest Community Church volunteers who quickly came to the aid of Warren residents by opening an overnight shelter with donations of food and staffed with congregant volunteers. This is the fifth disaster in the last few years that Stonecrest Community Church has assisted Warren Township OEM in helping Warren Township or our neighboring municipalities.
  • Rabbi Randi Musnitsky, Temple Har Shalom and the area businesses of the A&P grocery store, King’s grocery store, the Costco Warehouse in Bridgewater, The Little Shanty Restaurant, the Chimney Rock Inn, and the Chelsea for donating food and meals to the First Responders rehab center, the shelter at Stonecrest Church and the warming centers. To have a warm meal and delicious food made all the difference in the morale of First Responders to keep going.
  • Thanks to Tony Asch for providing IT support, WIFI access in the Courtroom, restoring the downed Township websites, and with Martha Reeder continually updated the websites with current information.
  • John George and Liz George for the video interview and help with communication via the Cable channel 15.
  • Thank you to Judy Weiniger for starting the Warren Township Community Forum on Facebook, allowing another avenue of communication for residents to share information.
  • Thank you to the residents who prepared ahead of the storm, and went out of their way to help their neighbors; particularly those in the community who assisted the frail, ill or elderly.
  • A profound and heartfelt thank you to the OEM and CERT volunteers who served countless hours in the Emergency Operating Center, shelter and warming centers including Deputy Coordinator Heston Allocco, Shelter Officer Lisa Carracino, Social Services Officer Yee Jao, Evacuation Officer Andy Martin, Communications Officer David Deitz, Lynn Nakashian, Madge Dragon, Mary deStefano, Meik Skoss, David Greene, Lauren Nelson, Lawrence Pompey, Andy Logan, Frank Levine, John DeBillis and Wendy Renda.

The Warren Township Rescue Squad and the Warren Township Fire Department are volunteer agencies serving the citizens and visitors to Warren Township. They are in need of additional members to help fulfill their mission of providing emergency services, and would welcome new volunteers. If you are interested in becoming a member, please contact them. If you would like to help yourself, your family, neighbors and community during emergencies, consider taking the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course when it is offered by the County next year.

Please prepare now for the next storm. Create a family emergency plan on what you and your family will do if you lose electricity for one to two weeks. If you have a well for water, family members who are elderly or using medical devices depended on electricity, or cannot afford to stay in a hotel for days, please consider purchasing a generator.

Lastly, thank you to the residents of Warren for their understanding, patience and perseverance over the last couple of weeks! We really appreciate your help and consideration in the successful recovery of Warren Township from this past storm.

Sincerely,

Jane Asch

Coordinator, Office of Emergency Management

Warren Township

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