River Dell Emergency Services Better Prepared for Future Storms
New generators at each borough hall are expected to help department operations run smoother during extreme weather conditions
As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene slips quietly by in River Dell and the Gulf Coast is battered by Isaac, emergency services in both towns have learned much in the past year and worked to improve their ability on getting residents better prepared.
One way that River Edge and Oradell have both moved forward is by allocating funding to purchasing new generators. In River Edge, a new generator will be installed soon to have the capacity to power the Public Safety/Police Department and Borough Hall on a 24-hour basis if required.
"The generator at Fire Company #2 which was 20 years old is also being replaced and being elevated three feet from its current location to provide power regardless of the water conditions in the area," River Edge OEM Coordinator Tom Smith said. "A generator is in place at the Sewer Pump Station on Wayne Avenue providing for on site power where in the past portable generators were used."
The borough also invested in a new tree truck that is expected to ensure the DPW's capability not only to maintain the borough's trees but to also be readily available during storm situations. The new truck is considered critical in the recovery effort after any storm for the clean up effort to allow the town to return to normal operation as soon as possible.
Oradell is also seeking a new generator for its municipal building as well as building up the emergency operations center and providing OEM Coordinator Derek Kahill with a shared office that is not located inside the police department. His new office space is shared with the Recreation Department, although during major storms a central command dispatch center is set up in Council Chambers.
"Both projects are in progress," Kahill said. "But the main Irene issue was power and the flooded substation. The question is what has PSE&G done in the last year to address flooding there and are there any new protocals at United Water regaring water management at the dam."
A Bergen County Flood Advisory Committee has been looking into what could be done to alleviate flooding, but the biggest obstacle is that the County's waterways are regulated by the state and local municipalities must obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) before tree limbs or other debris can be removed.
Locally, United Water has stood firm against lowering the Oradell reservoir prior to a storm over concerns of threatening the water supply and leaving towns in a lurch by not being able to provide adequate potable water. State Assembly members Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) and Scott Rumana (R-Wayne) have proposed legislation, A267, which would give the state authority to order the water level of any New Jersey reservoir lowered before or during a severe storm. Introduced in January, the bill is in committee at this time.
"Other efforts that are under way is to prepare and plan for specific issues, for example the flash flooding that occurs in several locations in River Edge," Smith said. "The DPW and the Borough Engineer are working on adding additional storm drainage as well as increasing the capacity of some other drainage pipes in an effort to reduce or eliminate the damage caused by the rapid rise of water in several locations in River Edge."
Smith added that alleviating the draining issues could take time as the project entails placing two large inlets at the Oak Avenue intersection to collect the runoff. He estimated the project could cost between $100,000 to $150,000 to complete the work.
While the long-term projects in both towns are still in progress, each borough is also focusing on what they can do now to help residents from having homeowners sign up for NIXLE or Reverse 911 alerts or following officials on Twitter. Both the River Edge and Oradell Fire Departments utilize the social media site as well as the Oradell Borough Hall.
Officials in River Edge and Oradell will sit down after every storm to review what occurred during the event, what went well, and what could be done better between Emergency Services and Borough Officials.
"We are always trying to improve our information and alerting systems," added Kahill. "Getting the right information out in a timely manner is important. We are also always looking for more streamlined methods to re-locate the DPW - so we can continue to respond and operate. We continually learn from the past and try to plan ahead for the future."
According to Smith, River Edge's approach is to focus on forward planning to be prepared for most emergencies and through a cooperative effort by the borough's Emergency services and Administration have provided the resources and training to ensure the proper initial response to residents as well as the actions to implement the changes needed from the learned experience of the event.
Granted there are additional concerns nowadays with more residents installing generators to deal with the power issues which can present problems with noise, improper installation and a large number of Carbon Monoxide calls due to the generators exhaust being too close to the home.
Also, emergency services are always concerned about any residents on life support, its senior citizens, debris management, building security when power is out, public safety around the swollen rivers, and continuity of operations for all departments.
"The level of cooperation among all the Emergency Services in town during these Emergencies is never truly recognized," Kahill concluded. "The Police, Fire, DPW and Town Officials who spend hours mitigating the town problems usually have the same flooding and power issues at home. It takes enormous strength for everyone to respond to these situations then return home to deal with their own. We have had a very quiet year so far and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we all hope it stays that way."