Freeholder Chairman Mirabella: After Sandy, Moving Forward

County Official looks forward in letter to the editor.

This has been an extraordinary time in Union County history, and we’ve seen some extraordinary things.

We’ve seen the worst of the damage and destruction that a powerful storm can bring, first with Hurricane Sandy and then with the nor’easter Athena.

We’ve also seen the best of human nature, as Union County residents pulled together to keep each other safe at the height of the danger.

So many people have been involved in the response and recovery that it’s impossible to thank them all, so I’d just like to say that as a lifelong resident of Union County I could not be more proud to say that this place is my home.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Tragically, two deaths in Union County have been attributed to the storm, and people are still suffering.

But we’re getting there.

And now, as we put our communities back in order, it is time to take a look at how we pulled through, and how we will prepare for the next time.

From the perspective of County government, one thing that stands out is the cooperation we received from local officials, which helped us to get our resources out quickly to communities in need.

That included extra help from County first responders and tree crews as well as fuel, fuel pumps, generators and light towers, to name just a few examples.

We also worked together to assist local emergency shelters, and we opened the Union County Regional Shelter in Cranford with the Red Cross and Salvation Army.  Special thanks go to the town of Cranford, its citizens and government officials, for making their community center available. 
Communication was another critical endeavor. We mobilized the County website and social media, reverse 911, FirstAlert and other lines of communication to stay in constant touch with local officials and reporters as well as individual citizens.

Those efforts also assisted County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi and her staff, as they overcame unprecedented circumstances during a presidential election to keep residents informed and ensure that every Union County voter who wanted to cast a ballot, could do so.

On a nice note, right between the two storms a pair of EMTs with our new countywide ambulance service delivered a baby girl in Rahway, who was in such a big hurry to enter this world that she could not wait for mom to get to the hospital.

Clearly, one focus moving forward will be a redoubling of efforts to develop an even more vigorous county-local shared services network. We need to identify what worked and move swiftly to fill any gaps.

Just as clearly, we also need to expand our attention outward to the state and federal level.

There is no question that fuel shortages and long-running power outages added overwhelming burdens to Union County residents and first responders. While some limited solutions may be available locally, the root of the problem can only be addressed through a coordinated national energy policy.

Union County will conduct a series of "after action" planning sessions to learn what was done well and when could have be improved.  We learned a lot and are better prepared as a result.

By working together and planning ahead, we can ensure that Union County will be prepared to meet the next “storm of the century,” withstand its blows, and keep moving forward.

Derek November 15, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Could 1 of the after actions include PSE&G tidying up a little? There's still the top half of a utility pole sitting across the sidewalk on Paterson Road (between Farley and Terrill) with dead (I hope) cable strewn across the sidewalk too.
Henry Lubinski November 15, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Perhaps Mr. Mirabella could explain why Martine Ave and Midway ave remained blocked for 8 days. These are after all county roads that serve has arteries for traffic through this (forgotton) area of union county. Perhaps Mr. Mirabella would care to publish the after action report and engage in a bit of dialog with the region instead of jumping to quickly pat himself on the back. The only communication readily available from the county was that the parks were closed. Road blockage was not addressed on a county level while at the municiple level the response was extraordinary. Communication was by and large absent unless of course the freeholders were talking to each other. There was nothing of any value on the county website. Having to travel back and forth to work the day of the storm and immediately afterwards it was very easy to pick out the towns that had their act together and those that did not. If the county did anything, there was no visible evidence to support that claim. This was an extraordinary event that challenged even the best leaders. I would not count county leadership among those select few.
Kenny Pace November 15, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Drive south....anywhere along the shore. Try to wrap your head around that for a bit. Then complain about how things have been handled in Westfield. Get a grip. People are without HOMES. Get it?
Anthony November 15, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Just what we all need... PR from our Freeholder Chairman.
South Westfielder November 16, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Mr. Mirabella, where were you and the other Union County Council people?
b paterson November 16, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Henry, criticism is always helpful when constructive, As an interested resident I attended the freeholder meeting last thrusday and there was a presentation by th department heads, directors and county manager, where they gave a thorough rundown of what the county did during the storm sandy. The county actually had to perform through 3 major operations: the storm sandy, the blizzard athena and then right on the heels was the presidential election with a higher than normal turnout. I found they did perform critical services like setting up and operating the shelter at the cranford community center, but the county basically was more of a secondary support to the local towns as you note, having their enforcement details help with the traffic at non-functional traffic signals, or helping remove trees. But remember this was the storm never before seen so this type of coordination was all done on the fly by all levels of govt. Of course during this freeholder meeting report all the people giving the status and even the freeholders used their usual blather of superlatives like extoadinary performance, close knit teamwork, etc, when all it is, is their usual tepid perfomance. I think they say all those superlatives more to convince themselves. From this crisis comes the probable requirement that the county, to man a crisis better should be broken into districts, in order to assess district needs better and to disseminate the manpower properly. The towns should push this.
b paterson November 16, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Mirabella said during the last freeholder meeting that most of the freeholders were inside the westfeild froehlich building at the county operations command center. Why, unsure, but maybe more just for their own curiosity. Hopefully they stayed out of the way of those critical personnel who knew what they were doing.
Max November 16, 2012 at 09:08 AM
Self-congratulatory drivel for doing what you are supposed to do is the domain of naïve, whining schoolchildren. "I did all my homework and went to every class, so I deserve an 'A'!" County Government is an inefficient duplication of services, a luxury we can not afford. We are long past due considering incorporating the functions currently provided by counties locally. To do so will result in less expensive, more responsive services.
Keith November 16, 2012 at 01:56 PM
The tragedy that continues to plague us is the "Union County Board of Freeholders"
Joseph Ross November 16, 2012 at 04:11 PM
After the county roads are opened work should be on the trees down in the Rahway River before another storm. These fallen trees could cause a dam effect.
Chefron November 16, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Welcome to the 21st century, where mediocrity is the new exceptionalism. I heard all of this when he attended Summit's council meeting last week. This is just to validate how your ever rising local taxes are being put to work, at a time when many municipalities are considering seceding from the Union (pun). At least they are planning a fact finding mission to find out if there is anything that can be improved. As if they don't already know. I'm sure they'll get back to us with all of that. Thank God for the generosity of spirit displayed by volunteers and neighbors who weren't afraid to get their hands dirty. (Sigh)... bureaucrats.
Deb Conway November 23, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Many of us were merely inconvenienced by Sandy and have so very much to be thankful for today! As an aside, since we're talking about improvements in Union County, I often wonder as I drive the off ramp then overpass leading off Rt. 78E onto Springfield Ave (close to Home Depot) when those horrible potholes and ruts are going to be addressed. It's been years! Unacceptable.
Max November 24, 2012 at 08:36 PM
. . . . .which reminds me, Deb, of the extraordinary boondoggle that has been the repairs to the Morris Avenue bridge over the NJ Transit line between Kent Place Boulevard and Springfield Avenue. Between rescheduling, misfiled work orders, and last-minute realization that alternate routes need to be upgraded before the bridge can be closed, that repair is years and years behind schedule. County government is unresponsive, inefficient, and wasteful.
South Westfielder December 09, 2012 at 02:25 PM
The Union County government is indeed unresponsive. After schools, the Union County portion of our property taxes represents the second largest chunk - more than to my own town. We get very litte in return since the money is being channeled to the towns where the people who are elected year after year to the Freeholders are from - usually Democrat controlled towns. Hillside, Elizabeth, Roselle, Roselle Park, Plainfield, etc. What do the other towns in the County get? I wish my town would leave Union County.
Keith December 09, 2012 at 04:13 PM
We should absolutely leave Union County.
Wally Westfield December 09, 2012 at 05:04 PM
1st time we have seen county trucks pick up debris curbside was this weekend How convenient for time and a half and double time wages
Donald December 09, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Some of the foregoing comments with respect to Westfield's leaving Union County are a bit ironic. Union County was created in 1857 when the towns in southern Essex County -- including Westfield -- united to secede from Essex, finally acting on a long-simmering desire to do so. It was the last of New Jersey's twenty-one counties to be created. Contrary to some popular misconceptions, the county's name of "Union" probably referred to the union of the seceding towns, rather than to the Northern states that fought the Civil War four years later. In any event, Westfield certainly has a secessionist history!
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