Managing Editor As trees toppled and lights went out scattered across Pike County, Hurricane Sandy proved to be training exercise for newly revamped emergency management operations. Pike County Commissioner Richard Caridi recounted the coordinated battle that took place from the Pike County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the County Training Complex. Involving numerous agencies, the EOC was staffed around the clock for three days, in touch with each of 13 municipalities and varied levels of government to respond as quickly as they could to public safety. Caridi stated at press conference Friday that the operations went very well, but had areas where they can learn and prepare to do better during the next crisis. He noted that the EOC, including 9-1-1 emergency communications, had only been the building at Lords Valley 18 days. The facility was opened this past June as a centralized location for training of fire and EMS company personnel, Emergency Management and 9-1-1 operations.
Month’s worth of 911 calls
During the passage of Hurricane Sandy, the 9-1-1 Center answered 1,368 calls from Monday Oct. 29 through Wednesday Oct. 31 which is the normal amount they would expect to have in an entire month. Five dispatchers were on duty rather than up to three, as they had when they were set up in Milford. The emergencies included 314 fire calls, 304 police calls and 82 EMS calls. During the first two days most of this was due to trees and wires down on roads. Stressing that the situation could have been a lot worse- no one locally died due to the storm; there was no flooding and just look at the New Jersey Coast - Caridi pointed out the magnitude of the crisis at home. • Over 14,000 PPL customers, close to 13,000 Met Ed customers and around 4,000 Pike County Light & Power customers were without power on Monday. By Friday, PPL’s customers without service dropped to about 5,500 and Pike County Light & Power was down to around 1,000 yet to be restored. Met Ed, however, had been dropping through Wednesday but climbed again and was at about 11,000 without service on Friday.
Guardsmen on duty
• The PA National Guard was called out to Delaware Township. Municipal officials contacted the County for special assistance, and the County EOC in turn alerted the PA Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). There were 32 National Guardsmen on duty in the Township, with 16 humvees. They controlled traffic at intersections where signals were not operating and patrolled the roads. In addition, 22,000 MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) were delivered for people in need. The Guard also arranged for 16 pallets of drinking water for distribution in the Township. PEMA was asked for a water buffalo truck to help deliver potable water to 4,724 people. • An overnight shelter was stet up at the Bushkill Fire Department in Lehman Township and at the Masthope community in Lackawaxen Township for Masthope residents. Several “refreshing” stations were set up for people whose power was out and need a place to shower or recharge cell phones, etc. The County delivered 20 cots requested by Lehman Township. • Phone communications ceased from Lehman Township. The County dispatched the Pike County 9-1-1 Director and the County Interoperability Trailer to the Township Supervisors to re-establish a link. • PEMA was requested to supply a generator for the Water Authority pump station in Matamoras but was later canceled. • Pike County Transportation vehicles and drivers were stationed at Municipal buildings and firehouses across the County in the event seniors needed evacuation or rides for emergency needs. At the EOC the situation room was populated by representatives of various agencies, each with their own work station complete with radio and phone communications and computer. Agencies included the Red Cross, National Guard. State Police, National Park Service, PennDOT, Pike County Human Services, County Commissioners, County Transportation, Pike County Light & Power, Met Ed and Pike County Amateur Radio. The last group, consisting of volunteer had radio buffs, were on hand in the event County radio transmissions broke down. State Representative Michael Peifer (139th), who added that his own home in Greene Township was also still without power on Friday, said that just a ride through the County revealed the scope of the problem. He visited the Monroe County EOC, and his ride to Pike County EOC facility took 2-1/2 hours due to road closures. He noted that Pike, known for its forests, contain many large trees which toppled. Peifer commended the effort of Pike County officials in the Emergency. He stated that the public was “starting to reach their wit’s end” as power outages were prolonged. He urged residents to check on their neighbors to be sure the are OK. While power companies were out in force, they had to work at restoring lines by priority, where they could get the most people back on at a time.
Talking to the press
Two members of the press asked for improved communication with the media when there is an emergency so that fresh information can be relayed as quickly as possible to the community. Caridi stated that their point person for media contact was occupied with other vital County duties as well. Caridi stated that a room would be set aside at the County Training Complex for the media where they could position themselves in the next crisis. A meeting will be held by County officials to review the emergency response and determine where they can improve.