Irene: Communication Called Biggest Hurdle a Year Later
Director of OEM says storm was worst he's seen in six years working for the office.
This Sunday is the first anniversary Hurricane Irene, the storm that left parts of Hopatcong without power for a week and flooded Lake Hopatcong.
Looking back on the storm, Mayor Sylvia Petillo said that the biggest hurdle for local emergency workers was communication with Jersey Central Power & Light.
"They probably had about 300,000 people without power during Irene," she said. "They didn't have enough crews. By the fourth day, Hopatcong had crews from Ohio, Nebraska, and Texas, coming in from different areas to begin to really penetrate Sussex County and begin to make a difference."
There is one big difference between Irene and now, which could help in the case of another big storm: Hopatcong now has more than one representative from JCP&L and they can be reached day and night.
"That's what will make the difference," Petillo said. "Because it will be continuous communication."
Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Robert Haffner, of the Hopatcong Borough Police Department, said that Irene was the worst storm he has seen in his six years of working for the office.
There were downed wires, flooded basements, and houses and cars damage by falling trees, he said.
Although Haffner says that emergency responders were "pretty much right on the ball" in their response to Irene, there have been some improvements that would help in the case of a similar storm.
The town has upgraded its emergency operations center with better equipment to track storms, and new radio systems are being installed for better communication with responders.
"We've got an entire building now dedicated to emergency management," said Haffner.
Haffner also said that sitting with emergency responders and going over a plan of attack before something happens is crucial, but sometimes, when trees are down and hundreds of thousands are without power in the region, there is only so much that can be done.
"We can only do what we can," said Haffner.