Sandy Post Mortem: Office of Emergency Management
Township employees look at what worked and what fell short during the tropical storm and look towards the future.
The first 90 minutes of the Springfield Township Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. were devoted to a Post Mortem on Springfield’s response to Sandy.
The consensus among department heads and officials was that lessons from the previous year’s major disruptive weather events, Irene and the October Snowstorm, where learned and applied, but that additional resources were needed to prepare the township for future storms. The departments all noted that storage and procurement of fuel and generators presented a challenge in the storm and would factor heavily in planning for coming storms.
Springfield Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Seidel garnered praise from his fellow presenters for his performance during Sandy. He said that while his office hustled to prepare for the storm, gathering supplies and staffing the Office of Emergency Management to a 24-hour capacity, they encountered difficulties with outside agencies and in their ability to offer shelter and amenities to disaster victims.
Seidel said that while township volunteers in the Auxiliary Police and CERT were invaluable during the storm, the Red Cross did not offer significant support. The Red Cross had been designated as the managers of the township shelters, but instead, CERT members Jim and Karen Bonacorda took charge of the shelters.
“The Red Cross let us down,” Township Committee member Rich Huber noted. “If it wasn’t for [Springfield volunteers] we’d be in real trouble.”
Seidel was somewhat more charitable in judging the Red Cross, saying that in regional disasters effecting more than one town, the organization can become stretched thin. He said that the Red Cross did eventually send a member to the Springfield shelter but that the arrival was too late to be effective and that a key lesson for the town is learning to be less reliant on outside agencies for assistance.
Seidel noted that the shelters themselves were an issue. Chisholm, originally designated as the shelter, had scattered power outages, with lights on in some rooms but off in some critical places, like the bathrooms. Sarah Bailey Center was powered by a smaller generator, which Seidel noted, was not optimal.
Seidel said that the lack of generators and fuel was a major issue during Sandy. He said that emergency response required 250 gallons of fuel per day and suggested that four-five days worth of diesel fuel be stored at key facilities along with suitable power generators. In addition, he said that the town needed to fix shelter locations and stock the designated shelters with supplies, including food, cots and blankets.
While he didn’t dismiss the need for generators in an emergency, Springfield Mayor Ziad Shehady questioned the need to buy generators when other ways to procure them might be explored.
“Do we need to buy generators and let them depreciate or find a way to rent them,” Shehady asked.