In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and a nor'easter that dumped inches on an already suffering Marlboro Township, the Town Council took time on Monday night to revisit the triumphs of township first responders and look toward a future of natural disasters.
"We responded in an unbelievable manner in regards to this storm," Mayor Jon Hornik said, thanking first responders and township employees. "We learned a lot, and we will get better."
Police Chief Bruce Hall said during and after the storm, the township received thousands of 9-1-1 calls, including from as far away as Brooklyn. Hall said the county dispatch system as well as systems in surround townships failed, and Marlboro dispatch served as backup.
Hornik said Hall was on call 24 hours per day, before, during and after the storm.
"I can't imagine he got more than a few hours of sleep a day," Hornik said. "And I know during the few hours of sleep I got, I slept better knowing he wasn't sleeping, and that was important for me."
Council President Lt. Col. Jeff Cantor, also a Marlboro first responder, said every volunteer in the township was deployed, including the newly formed Marlboro Citizen Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T).
"Everything was planned for," Cantor said. "There were a lot of people who put themselves in harms way for us."
The Marlboro Township Office of Emergency Management, led by Hall, was put into action two days before the storm hit. Police department and township officials, as well as first responders, met every morning at 10 a.m. for more than a week after the storm.
Those meetings resulted in township email notifications and Swift 9-1-1 robocalls to Marlboro residents. As of Tuesday, 23 notifications have been sent by the township in relation to Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter.
Councilwoman Randi Marder thanked Hornik's office for the communication, which included information about power outages and the impromptu township shelter set up for those without heat.
"Even if it wasn't information you wanted to hear, it was information," Marder said at Monday night's meeting. "I think the residents appreciated being kept in the loop."
For almost two weeks, thousands of township residents remained without power while little information came from JCP&L.
The company spent more than one year in Marlboro Township trimming trees and upgrading circuits and other infrastructure, but Councilwoman Carol Mazzola said it obviously didn't work.
Mazzola recalled a council meeting only months ago, when JCP&L representative Gerry Ricciardi assured township officials safeguards were put in place after Hurricane Irene left Marlboro in the dark for 10 days.
"I would like to know exactly why these fail safe methods didn't work," Mazzola said. "Even though Sandy was a much stronger hurricane, we know when it was going to land and they weren't ready. And I don't think they were willing to take the preventative measures that [JCP&L] had in place."
Mazzola said she plans to continue her own investigation into JCP&L as the township moves forward from the worst storm in its history.
"I just think that their performance was totally unacceptable," Mazzola said. "I certainly hope JCP&L will be held accountable for their failure and their inability to protect the people that they serve."
Hornik, who attended a summit of local mayors in Tinton Falls on Monday morning to discuss future plans in regard to JCP&L, said he believes the best communications came directly from the ground.
"Gerry Ricciardi, our JCP&L representative, is a nice guy. But he had no clue what was going on on the ground."
Hornik said he and Hall found out quickly that communicating directly with linemen, some of whom remained idle in township parking lots while waiting for instructions from JCP&L headquarters, was the most effective way of restoring power to Marlboro and Morganville.
With that lesson learned, Hornik said he will suggest having specific linemen, supervisors and foremen assigned to townships based on population, and communication should be coordinated from the ground.
"We realize we have to be able to help ourselves and our own citizens in these crises," Hornik said. "You can't look to the county, you can't look to the state, you really can't even look to the federal government. The system gets overwhelmed very quickly."