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Hurricane Tests Lessons Learned in Chatham's 2011 Storms

Chatham Township officials get ready for the second hurricane in 18 months.

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.

Sir October 26, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I have zero confidence in the mayor and her crew to handle this storm. They failed last year miserably and they have no plan this time. I hope at minimum they have contracted with landscape companies to cut limbs and clean up.
Duncan Munchkin October 26, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I would like to echo a similar sentiment for the borough. The leaf collection this year has been supremely slack. There are leaves spilling into the roadway everywhere choking off the drainage grates that are supposed to relieve the water. Everything seems to have slowed down to a crawl under Harris and he is probably more concerned about the turnpike than he is about Chatham.
TCG October 26, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Other than re-stating the obvious about batteries and water, what's new? A phone alert system when there is no power? A "maybe" on opening the Emergency Squad Building? The storm is almost here? Have the power companies that were called in from Michigan and Ohio (far too late and AFTER last year's storm) been called in ahead of time? Are they here and ready? I was without power for 8 days last time. When the power company from Ohio finally showed up they complained that could not get into town earlier due to the weather? What's been done to prevent that problem from happening again? Why not make the high school and middle school and Town Hall available as a temporary shelter? When and how will we get these answers? After the storm? Come one folks...here is a chance for the town to get it in gear early and this story does absolutely nothing to assure anyone that they are doing so.
Ed October 27, 2012 at 12:13 AM
The only ones who do a great job are the vol. fire department. They were great last year. Town employees just drove around, never got out of trucks, just drove around, guess they were counting all that overtime money.
kjchat October 27, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Three feet of snow last Oct??? It was bad, but not that bad... I think we got 8-10 inches, maybe a foot max....
john October 27, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I think the fire dept and dept of works did a great job keeping the roads passable during the storm last october. The power company was not good but the only real solution there is to bury the power lines. They should really work on that.

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