OP-ED: 11 Days and 9 Letters
The writer is North Caldwell Mayor Joseph Alessi.
From Monday October 29 to Friday November 9, 2012 Hurricane Sandy and her second act the Nor'easter named Athena, wreaked havoc on North Caldwell, New Jersey, and the entire tri-state area.
For the first time in my life, New Jersey held the national headlines because of the massive destruction that was suffered here. We had never seen residents of Manhattan having to evacuate due to a natural disaster or the subways and tunnels being flooded/closed or people not working for an entire week. This, of course, did not include the utility workers, police, firefighters and other first responders.
Gasoline lines were as far as the eye could see, with people waiting on line for hours just because of a rumor that a station might be opening.
For the second year in a row we had to postpone Halloween. This time we also had an election that was not postponed and, which, at least in my opinion, resulted in the most devastation during the 11-days and will affect us for the next four years.
I believe that the whole 11-day ordeal can be summed up in 9 letters ETR (“Estimated Time of Restoration” – for electricity), OEM (“Office of Emergency Management”) and OMG (“Oh My God!”).
Our Emergency Management Officer, John D'Ascensio, (who doubles as our fire chief) went above and beyond in coordinating our relief effort. North Caldwell sent a crew of firefighters to Ocean County to help the worst victims of Sandy. Sandy was a storm of biblical proportions, the worst in the state's history.
In North Caldwell, our borough employees, volunteers and residents stepped up to the plate "big time". There were endless hours of overtime by people who earned a salary and many who did not. There were daily conference calls with PSE&G, Gov. Christie and his cabinet (President Obama was on one of the calls) and FEMA. We worked with Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Frelinghuysen’s staffs and the United States Postal Service in Washington, D.C. [for information on mail delivery]; the National Weather Service, our State Representatives in the 26th District; Essex County OEM and other towns.
The Fireman's Community Center was set up as a warming center, so residents could come in from the cold, have a hot cup of coffee and, in some instances, a meal. Most of the food was donated by residents like fourth grader Marlee Perlmutter and her dad, Brett, who brought home made brownies [see picture above], Peter Hollander and others. Local businesses also provided food—Ned Gladstein from West Caldwell Shop-Rite, Joe Forte of Forte's Restaurant and Michael Ciallalla from All State Vending. Even the firemen cooked breakfast. Residents also came to charge their phones and other devices. Fire, Police and Council members assisted in keeping the doors open.
There were many utility crews who worked 16 hour days from the day we lost power until last Friday when the last house was restored. Many of these folks came from as far as Texas. They kept telling me how much they liked the people in New Jersey and how they were nothing like the ones they saw on Jersey Shore.
Despite the fact we had no electricity, Borough Hall remained open thanks to the help of our Borough Clerk Nancy Pravata and our Business Administrator Mel Levine. Mel worked the counter helping residents. Nancy was unbelievable. She worked from early in the morning until into the evening, weekends included. She was not alone. Our CFO Rich Mondelli came in from Westfield each day (even when there was no electricity) to take care of the tax bills and made sure that a scheduled bond auction went according to plan and he was able to get North Caldwell an interest rate of under 1% in the midst of all the chaos.
Our Police Chief Mark Deuer, Sgt. Bill Texas and the rest of the police officers and dispatchers; the incomparable Frank Zichelli, our Borough Engineer, DPW Foreman Bill Stickles and his entire crew, Fire Chief John D’Ascensio and President John Ritter and their crew deserve our town's gratitude. In particular I want to thank George Sous, Russ Furnari and Everton Scott from PSE&G for all their "above and beyond". There were almost hourly calls, during all hours of the day and night, made to them to gain power restoration to entire sections, pocket areas and then individual. On October 29th/30th 100% of the town was without power; within one week 92% was restored and the last three homes were restored on Nov. 9, 2012. A resident of Lake Hopatcong told me on Thursday that JCP&L is estimating that his power will be restored by Dec. 3.
I am scheduling a debriefing with town officials to discuss the success and the failures and how we might improve our efforts if, God forbid, this should ever occur again. PSE&G and the Essex County are doing likewise. One thing that is patently obvious, it is that we must improve our communication with our residents. Because power was down, land lines were not operable and therefore we could not make effective use of our reverse 911 calling service. We were only able to send out press releases and bulletins on Nixle, a service that can send messages to mobile phones, emails and other such devices. Residents must however sign up with the police department to enroll and receive these Nixle messages. It is also important for all residents who have not done so already to provide the police department with your email addresses to receive important messages. They will be kept confidential and no one will have access to them. Finally, I advise everyone to provide your cell phone numbers to the Police Department so that in case land lines are down, you can receive reverse 911 calls on your cell phones.
Next week we celebrate Thanksgiving. As always in this country we have a lot to be thankful for. We have weathered a natural disaster and although things did not go as smoothly as everyone would have liked we were thankfully spared the devastation that others in our state had to and are still enduring. I am thankful for all the assistance that North Caldwell received from so many sources. I wish everyone a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving with plenty of electricity.