As power outages lasted up to a week or more for River Edge residents following Superstorm Sandy, the borough's Office of Emergency Management struggled to send out updates or even communicate to homeowners. The same power outages that sent residents into the dark had the same affect on its emergency services coordinator Tom Smith.
Smith recently oulined several new goals for the office going forward to lessen the impact on residents when communications fail including posting flyers at local houses of worship, resurrecting the Civilian Emergency Response Team (CERT), and utilizing amateur radio operators (ham operators) in the borough.
"One thing we all felt comfortable with was NIXLE, the Reverse 911, internet, phones and cell phones for communications," Smith said. "Everyone of those failed at some point during Sandy. The idea is to give overall coverage to the whole community and we've been working on that."
River Edge once had a large CERT volunteer prescence in town, but the program had fallen to the wayside over the years. Smith is now hoping to resurrect the program, using volunteers to stay in connect with the borough's approximatly 1,400 senior citizens.
"This storm had the potential for residents to help," Smith said. "We're in the process of putting together a contact list of all senior citizens that live by themslves with their addresses and phone numbers. During an emergency we could have the CERT volunteers sit at the phones and check to see if they have enough medication or food."
He added that if the borough was again hit with severe power outages, CERT volunteers could be sent out into neighborhoods to go door-to-door and check on senior citizens. Volunteers could also be sent out with the Fire Department engines to broadcast messages over the truck's speakers in various neighborhoods.
"From stage coach days, people would post things around town so we'll look to get flyers out to different churches and the temple to give residents," Smith added. "These are all non-futuristic things and going back to the horse and buggy era but it worked."
The Office will also look to include local Ham operators in their communications planning.
"Ham operators provide a communications vehicle we otherwise would not have," Smith said. "When everything else fails they don't as they use a line of sight radio signal from tower to tower.
Emergency Management has petitioned the town to purchase new equipment in 2013 to boost their internet signal with a satellite so that NIXLE could still be utilized during major storms.