Effective communication and selfless teamwork enabled Wall Township's government to keep residents safe as the state suffered through superstorm Sandy, officials said Tuesday night.
"Everyone stepped up to the plate," township Administrator Jeff Bertrand said at the regular meeting of the Township Committee. "Volunteers are the backbone of this township," Mayor Jeff Forster said in agreement.
Committee members, residents and department heads lauded the efforts of staff and volunteers at the meeting, the first regular session since Sandy made landfall and knocked out power to much of Wall for almost two weeks. Officials also reiterated their dissatisfaction with JCP&L's performance and pledged to pressure the company to improve its communication.
The Police Department and Committee were pleased with the effectiveness of the Global Connect telephone message system, which was the "number one way to get information out to people," Bertrand said. Fifty calls were made during the storm, police Chief Robert Brice said.
Bertrand and Brice urged all to provide every available phone number to the township for future emergencies. Visit www.wallpolice.org and find the "Global Connect" icon on the right side of the page. Add all of your phone numbers and email addresses.
The chief said the township turned to Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information, which was a "big plus," as there's a "segment of the population where that's where they get all their information from."
The Office of Emergency Management was able to respond to situations as they arose, whether it dealt with water, downed lines, felled trees or a medical emergency, primarily due to the preparation before the storm, Brice said.
The OEM quickly set up task forces at the South Wall and Glendola fire stations, as well as at the police department, while splitting the township into north, central and south zones. The task forces were able to quickly assess what type of response was needed in its zone, Brice said.
"We were able to use our resources to the best of our ability," he said.
Despite rumors that proliferated on social media, crime did not rise during the storm, Brice said. Bertrand credited Brice's anti-looting initiatives — in which officers threw on all cruiser lights and patrolled the commercial centers — with maintaining order.
All also had applause for Bob Hendrickson, the director of Public Works, who also credited proper preparation and teamwork with his department's success.
"As far as preparedness, I don't think we could have done a better job," said Hendrickson, who noted that Thanksgiving will only be the DPW's third day off since landfall.
Residents should soon receive calls via Global Connect concerning the township's plan for brush pickup, which begins Friday. Wall is contracting for five roll-off vehicles and will otherwise rent equipment to finish the job, which will be conducted area by area according to a brush pickup map that is expected to be uploaded to the township's website.
The Committee praised the efforts of individual linemen to restore power during the storm but were harshly critical of JCP&L's management and communication.
Committeewoman Ann Marie Conte was "disgusted and disappointed" with JCP&L, especially since they were promised effective communication during an unrelated meeting with the utility about two weeks before the storm.
"That was absolutely not the truth," she said.
Foster repeated demands that the Marconi sub-station be elevated or moved and said JCP&L "acts like a bean-counting operation. It doesn't take care of people."
Brice was more reserved but said the township couldn't even rely on the scant information it did receive from the utility.
"We questioned the timeliness and reliability of the information we were getting," the chief said. "Most municipalities in Monmouth encountered the same difficulties we did."
Despite the hardships, the committee was cognizant of the suffering endured elsewhere. Compared to Belmar and Manasquan or the Bayshore, Wall escaped the storm relatively unscathed.
"The devastation .. is unimaginable," Conte said.
Committeman George Newberry, an electrician who was credited with helping keep lights on at police headquarters, said he was awed and saddened to see the destruction of homes along the Bayshore, where he works. All said it's particularly appropriate just two days before Thanksgiving to appreciate the relative good fortune Wall experienced.
"Let's be thankful for what we have," Conte said.