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Communication Key Issue in Sandy, Residents Say

Officials and residents agree at council meeting communication is where most of the problems evolved during storm's aftermath.

Dozens of residents filled the Municipal Building Wednesday night, hoping to get some answers about the response from Superstorm Sandy.

The subject of communication, or the lack thereof, was the hot topic of the night, as both residents and officials have previously expressed concerns about the information flow in the days after the storm.

The borough council meeting, which was the first since the storm, saw an exceptionally higher crowd than normal, with not one empty seat. Several residents couldn't get in the room and had to stand outside.

About 10 residents spoke in the public portion that lasted about an hour, many offering suggestions while critiquing the town's response to the storm that left the town two weeks without power.

Superstorm Sandy knocked down 100 poles, 550 wires and caused 225 tree problems in the borough, according to statistics Mayor Sylvia Petillo presented at the meeting from JCP&L. 

Petillo said communication was a problem because both the borough and police department lost their Internet connection from the outages.

However, some residents didn't think the technology should have kept the officials from talking to the residents. 

"Communication has been an issue long before technology," resident Philip Crosson Jr. said. "There are a lot of old ways that we can go back and deal with this."

Crosson, who is the Chatham Borough police chief, suggested creating a borough communications committee to involve the community to come up with other options.

Petillo also noted the borough had non-emergency, town hall and dispatch numbers working for residents to reach out for help anytime.

But several residents said at the meeting when they called the non-emergency number, they couldn't get through or left voicemails that were never returned.

Some suggested having signs or flyers posted around the borough for the community to receive information.

Others said there should be a designated person to report on exactly where JCP&L crews are working to keep residents up-to-date about roads closed or areas being worked on.

Resident Brenda Rossi Breheny said she comes to meetings occasionally, and came specifically on Wednesday to see what was going to be discussed on communication. After the meeting, she said she believes the council will be able to take away some of the ideas for improvement.

"They sound like they're going to make the changes that are needed for future situations, and we just have to see what they are deciding on and hope that it is beneficial to all the people," Breheny said.

Some residents said after the meeting they were surprised at how smoothly it went, after many have openly expressed frustration in the past two weeks.

"I thought it was pretty well-run," Henry Schmidt said. "I think that something's going to be done [about communication]. I think they're going to try to do something else to improve it. You learn from your mistakes, unfortunately it was a tough time for everyone and frustrations were high."

Petillo said the council will review all of the suggestions to implement new plans.

"We have to look at what happens with communication when everything that we're used to and familiar with is gone," she said. "That's something we have to look at in different ways. So changes will come from all of this, so truthfully I'm really glad that you're here because this is very productive."

Petillo noted that the borough had used a reverse 911 system to send alerts, but many residents didn't know about it or signed up. To sign up and receive alerts, visit the borough website

No other council members commented throughout the meeting, but OEM director Officer Robert Haffner spoke and thanked everyone for their understanding and patience in the storm.

"I do know the frustrations were very high, but I think everybody came together, [and] helped where they needed," he said.

Capt. Tina Kraus, Lt. Thomas Kmetz and Chief Robert Brennan were also at the meeting.

Residents commended the first responders throughout the night and thanked the police officers and CERT volunteers.

Resident Marygrace Tiersch had a tree fall on her while she stepped outside of her Charles Place home for a second during the night of the storm, which resulted in 29 stitches on her head and a 4-hour brain surgery operation.

She came to the meeting to thank the first responders who saved her life.

"They got my family through one of the most horrific, awful experiences I've ever had," she said. "If it wasn't for this wonderful police department, I probably wouldn't be here." 

Petillo said the past two weeks were made possible thorugh the team effort displayed by everyone in the community.

She closed with thanking all of the residents who helped others, as well as the OEM, police, DPW workers, volunteer firemen, CERT members, ambulance squad, animal control officer, municipal staff and council members, school officials, school staff and teachers, and the Red Cross and AmeriCorp volunteers.

"Their extraordinary and tireless efforts brought this community through," she said.

Vicky Kaiser November 15, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Thank you and God Bless you Phillip Crosson. We listened to every word that you said last night at the meeting. You are the voice of the people! You truly care about the residents of Hopatcong and correcting the problems in our town! It was a pleasure meeting you. Vicky Kaiser
STATE PARK November 15, 2012 at 03:32 PM
WHAT DID THE POLICE DO BEFORE THE INTERNET???????????
nan November 15, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I was there at Town meeting last night .What a joke!! Mayor and council members 100% clueless of technology comunucations available ,combative,sarcastic,best comment from mayor "I did communicate storm updates to Hopatcong residents through facebook and internet "HELLLLLLLLO MAYOR I HAD NO POWER .Hopatcong residents please dont let this continue . PETITION,IMPEACH, VOTE OUT !!! sign me up
Stevie November 15, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Mayor Petillo’s statement that, “…the borough had used a reverse 911 system to send alerts…” is a lie. Last year I received more than one voice mail message from Hopatcong OEM thousands of miles away (while traveling on business), but not even one for Hurricane Sandy. I never lost home telephone service during this storm, and it sure didn’t stop the telemarketing calls for “cheaper electric rates,” or robocalls from Sussex County Board of Elections, and even a (recorded) campaign call from Mayor Corey Booker, but not one call from the boro. However, on Monday, November 12, Mayor Petillo stated, “Reverse 911 was down…” So how could alerts be sent if the system were down? Mayor Petillo also added on November 12, “…as was resident’s ability to receive calls.” (also published at patch.com). And that statement was also a lie. “Resident’s ability to receive calls” was NOT universally impacted by the storm. Verizon (plain old) telephone service was still working as was most wireless telephone services, and we’ve already heard from residents angry because those with only cellular telephone service (and not smart-phones) could not reach any of the limited media contacts the Mayor chose to utilize. So which, is it, Was reverse 911 down, or was it working and used to send alerts? Which statement is the truth, and which is a lie?
jazzman November 15, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Did she ever give us up dates via the internet with why and when would the blvd open up to vehicle traffic she had 1week and 2days to get that road open.
Joyce Gould November 16, 2012 at 01:39 AM
My church kept me well informed about what was happening through text messages. While that wont work for everyone, it would be useful for some of us.
Maryann Edwards November 16, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Me too!!!
justaresident November 16, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Was at the meeting last night and I have to say some things still don't add up with the administration's explanation of borough website communication being down. First, the borough 'press release' on facebook says 'Our Borough internet and website were down for 10 days creating difficulties in communication, while Smartphone technology was our only access to Social Media.' During the meeting last night when Phil Crosson went up to speak, this is the beginning of the conversation in a nutshell: Crosson started to address the council & mayor and it rolled around to the email he sent (that Patch published for all to see and boy you could tell they were not happy about that). Mr. Elia-'we never received your email that was sent on Nov 8 bc our borough communication was down for 10 days after the storm and apparently Patch got it before us, so that is where we saw it for the first time, so we couldn't address your email since we didn't get it, plus we checked all the email addresses that were copied on the email and there were at least 4 bogus (incorrect) emails, so your email was automatically sent to our spam folder so none of us got it' Crosson-'what day did the system come back up?' Elia & council panel-'Nov 6' Crosson-'the system came back up on Nov 6, but you didn't receive my email on Nov 8?'
justaresident November 16, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Where do I start with this bundle of joy?? Well, Mr. Elia, either you got Crosson's email or you didn't because you can't have it both ways. Follow along with me here while we do the math: First Elia & company says the borough internet and website were down for 10 days, which (if you don't include the date of 10/29 because their system was up & running that day) would make it Nov 8 that the systems were back in play. Nov 8 is when Crosson's email was sent, but yet the council confirmed the borough's internet & website came back up on Nov 6?? (And this was triple confirmed by the council when they said that the borough facebook page went up the very next day Nov 7 (which is a fact—the facebook page says ‘Joined Facbook Nov 7’) What kind of math is this??? Second, (and we’ve all been here, esp the IT Techs) even though there may have been 4 incorrect email addresses listed, the email would still be delivered to the correct emails addresses that were listed. Plus, bogus emails are not a reason for any email to get dumped into a spam mail folder. And even if it was dumped into their spam folder—how would they be able to tell since they keep saying they never received it??? Where does this guy get his material?? Seriously, I need to contact his writer and tell them they need to get a math tutor in there.
justaresident November 16, 2012 at 03:45 AM
In the end, the council & mayor still stand by their sadly, unamounting statements of timeframe as to why they couldn’t communicate with anyone until their systems came back up. Yet they say ‘Smartphone technology was our only access to Social Media.'—WHAT???? And no one in the town’s administration thought of going anywhere out of town even for a day to a place that had power (there were plenty of places they could go even a couple days later that had power and Cablevision internet access, since they stated they run off of Cablevision) to log onto the borough’s website to post important information (the website was up, by the way—another IT Tech item to note for future reference: if a website is down, no one can get to it, but yet many of us were able to get on the borough’s website during this mess via our Smartphones—how does that one not work for the administration??) And bonus question--did anyone put the 2 + 2 together yet? The borough system came back up just in time for election day—how convenient for the council members seeking re-election.
Maryann Edwards November 16, 2012 at 03:58 PM
How very Hopatcong all of this is. When will it ever change? I've lived here since 1976 and you can never get a straight answer out of any one of our elected officials.
jazzman November 16, 2012 at 04:24 PM
This was a storm like no other in this state history,but if and when the next storm hits maybe not in my life time,we need to open up the main roads,county road lakeside blvd,maxium drive,lakeside ave,within 24hrs,we cant wait for the county to come out with brooms and sholves to remove trees and wires.im still not sure what the procedure was that caused all that delay,communication and lots of red tape im guessing.Oh and someone stole the street light laying on the ground in front of 22 Shawnee rd laying street side Modick park and i thinks i know who`s the guy!!!
Michele Guttenberger November 16, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Yes, communications was the issue and good points brought up on using the old standbys too like posting open store front paper flyers & posters and banners or organized Town Criers with a bull horn driving through the neighborhood announcing the shelter and water stations. Just like the manual communications our elected officials use with real BIG campaign election banners they had put up on the main roads for everyone to see them OR The word of mouth that the Mayor has her favorite pastor disseminate in a Sermon to the people at the Hopatcong PUBLIC High School shelter 2 days before the election. Maybe if the Mayor had Pastor K from BBCC go door to door as good neighbors spreading the word of the FEDERAL Emergency Management Agency FEMA funded community shelter and FEMA FEDERAL funded CERT volunteers that are helping out their community at the Hopatcong PUBLIC High School they could have spread the word of the vital FEDERAL funded Neighborhood assistance in the same effective manner that they do to spread the word of Jesus to the people who already found the shelter and got to listen to the church's guidance on Hopatcong's leadership 2 days before the election and RE-election of council members.
Alice Jameson November 16, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Don’t tease us, Jazzman. Who of all people would have the nerve to be absconding with a street light?
BeachBum November 16, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Is Hopatcong going to communicate a schedule when residents can put tree branches and brush out to the curb for pick up - Is this going to happen? When does yard debris, leaves stop being picked up?
jazzman November 16, 2012 at 11:30 PM
no kidding,the tree came down in the park hit the wires and brought down the street light,it was there yesterday,now it gone and they left the lense cap behind...and the guy that lives there is a steel scrapper,so you put two and two together
Concerned November 17, 2012 at 11:56 PM
I feel the town mayor and council really dropped the ball on this whole post-hurricane 2 week ordeal that we all went thru. As far as i am concerned, there was NO attempt whatsoever on our mayors part to inform our residence of pertinent information in regards to when we might get our power back, when the recycling center was to be opened to accept all tree debris as well as household garbage, what roadways were passable and what roadways were not, etc, etc, etc!! We had to rely on individual posts on facebook by friends and neighbors who would relay information!! As a parent, I WAS informed each day by our superintendent of schools in reference to school being closed and the high school being used as a red cross shelter. Im sure if this was an election year for our mayor things would have been alot different! We were ALL abandoned by our mayor and I for one WILL NOT forget this next election day!! I will not listen to any excuses after the fact!!

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