Fourteen months ago in August 2011, Hurricane Irene blew through Chatham and left flooding, sinkholes, power outages and trees strewn in streets, lawns and on top of homes and vehicles.
Twelve months ago, almost to the day, an early season nor’easter dropped three feet of snow onto the Chathams, where the leaves were still on the trees. Chatham Township lost power completely; all but a few blocks of Chatham Borough were without power. School, sports and even Halloween trick-or-treating were all canceled as a result.
Now with Hurricane Sandy protected to hit the area as early as Sunday, officials in Chatham Township see an opportunity to demonstrate the improvements they’ve made in communications and responding to community needs after the two 2011 storms.
. Some residents went without power for three to five days, and were unable to receive reverse 911 calls or other communications.
Mayor Nicole Hagner said, “The town did everything we needed to do in those storms. I think everybody can appreciate there was a lot of effort to do that,” Hagner said. “Obviously there are areas we can improve on, especially in communication and making people aware of ways they can get information.”
Hagner recommended residents sign up for Nixle alerts to get messages from police in the storm.
“There are things we can now implement, since town residents would utilize [them],” she said, “and we’re getting prepared to implement them.”
This includes possibly opening the Chatham Emergency Squad building as a center for residents to charge their electronics.
The township also has the community policing initiative in place now, with certain officers assigned to particular districts. Hagner and John Paton, chief of the Chatham Township Police Department, hope this initiative will enable residents with special needs to get the help they need to weather the storm.
“We can get to people with special needs whom we might not have known about before, and we found out about through those storms,” Hagner said.
Paton said if weather predictions are correct, Sandy could bring in 5 in. of rain and 70 mile-an-hour winds, possibly over three days. "So what we're looking at is power losses," Paton said.
Paton, who also serves as the township’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator, said, "The most important thing people can do is have three days worth of water and food for each person in the house, batteries for flashlights, cell phones, things like that. Be prepared to be without power."
John Pacelli, the head of the Chatham Township Department of Public Works, said DPW equipment has all been tested. “I have a very early delivery of [diesel] fuel coming in in the morning," Pacelli said, which will replenish fuel stores and possibly power generators in municipal buildings.
"Our equipment is ready," and staff will spend Friday looking at drainage areas and cleaning storm basins.
"We'd rather be prepared and look foolish than the opposite," Paton said.
Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) will be out to help residents during and after the storm.