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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.

BART FRAENKEL December 04, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Absolutely they also deserve our appreciation. I apologize for the omission of the FAS and CERT Team.
Elizabeth December 04, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Yes, thank you Springfield's First Aid Squad for allowing us to charge our phones etc. and keeping us warm. You were all so gracious and nice and helpful. Even had 'foamy' more comfortable chairs! We should give those chairs to the Chisholm building. OUCH! Still smarting from those hard seats! The folks at the Church Mall by the Presbyterian Church deserves thanks as well. I went there one day and charged some things and had lovely conversations with my neighbors who I didn't even know! They gave out ice there as well. Everyone was so nice and helpful. I was surprised and delighted to get to know my neighbors who I probably see at the Shoprite etc. but didn't even know. We all did a lot of talking while charging our phones. It was all in all an interesting experience. One that I am glad is over and never will happen again. But if it does, we will all be a bit wiser and now know we can count on people to help us as we help each other. Thanks again to the folks who helped push my car to the gas station by Scotties when I ran out of gas. This storm brought out the best in everyone.
Elizabeth December 04, 2012 at 02:35 AM
They did? Oh that was nice of them! Thank you! I didn't even know that...
Elizabeth December 04, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Why does everyone always feel compelled to focus on the negative? I met our Mayor and was very impressed by his assertive yet calm demeanor. He is a lot younger than you would expect a town Mayor to be, but what he lacked in age he more than made up for in people skills and caring. I met him at the Chisholm Center and he not only shook our hands, he pulled up a chair and chatted with us. Very impressive young man who obviously is going places. We can all say we knew him when!
Kari December 04, 2012 at 07:50 AM
After Katrina, I remember thinking "that would never happen up north". Well, there are still people in Staten Island and Long Island who do not have power, if they even still have their homes. I learned a lot about how to survive in this kind of emergency, and I hope we all did. As we went without power and heat for two weeks, I kept a battery operated radio tuned to 1010 WINS and I remember thinking "See? No one cares..." I came to realize that you can't expect or count on help. You had better figure it out for yourselves as best you can. For those who did help, THANK YOU, but for me, the whole experience left me scarred and feeling like no matter what the politicians (at every level, from the President to the Governor to local politicians) say, none of it matters. They say what they need to get elected.

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