The recent nor’easter has certainly impacted the lives of the people who live and work in Berkeley Heights. We’ve lost power, our children have missed school days, and many have experienced considerable property damage. It’s been stressful and challenging times for the families in our town.

Yet, we are managing. Five days after Quinn hit, the massive cleanup has been a joint effort of residents, business owners, the Berkeley Heights DPW, the County of Union, and JCP&L. People are still suffering and there’s certainly more to do, but the end of the road is in view. Reflecting on our current status, I see we’ve learned and applied a few lessons from similar weather emergencies. And once all the work is done and we’ve completed a full post-mortem, we look forward to putting more measures in place to improve readiness, communication, and recovery.

Snow removal and downed trees

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We bought a new heavy-duty plow since 2013 equipped to handle snow volume like that from Quinn and there’s another one on order. DPW employees used these plows and all equipment at their disposal, working around the clock for five days to clean up from the storm. While an incredible amount of work has been completed, there’s still more work ahead and DPW’s crews remain committed to getting the entire Town back to normal as soon as possible.

Every one of our 14 DPW employees worked countless hours to clean up from the storm. DPW’s Superintendent operated a plow alongside his staff, and we are using contingent labor to speed our response, drawing on our list of qualified people who know how to drive DPW equipment.

Communication

Our ability to communicate with our residents in emergencies like this continues to improve.

Better inter-organization communication processes ensured that our municipal workers could coordinate with fire and rescue, Union County, State, and the power company to ensure that Berkeley Heights received the care it deserves from the sources we contribute to.

Swift 911, a text alert service for residents manned by our Township Administrator, John Bussiculo, sent out 22 messages to inform residents about DPW’s progress, updated from JCP&L, and the upcoming meeting with JCP&L. The Township Police also sent text alerts and phone messages.

Berkeley Heights Facebook page provided residents with 28 updates as of Monday morning, March 12.

All residents have the chance to meet face-to-face with a JCP&L representative at a town-wide meeting on Thursday night, March 15 at 7 pm at Town Hall.

Cooperative efforts

The Township set up its own warming station and communicated that the YMCA and Lifetime were also offering support to residents—warm showers, charging stations, and free coffee. Stop and Shop also provided charging stations to residents free of charge. Please patronize these and other businesses in Town as the storm has been hard on them, too.

Lessons learned/next steps

Quinn has delivered a big blow to our town, but it’s nothing that the Township along with residents and businesses can’t handle together. Here are some initial ideas that will make it easier to Berkeley Heights to recover faster from future emergencies.

  1. Encourage more residents to sign up for our alert programs.
  2. Consider ways to address the need to identify and remediate tree limbs that pose a risk to power lines during storms. The first step is opening discussions with JCP&L on this topic.
  3. Select one large parking lot for JCP&L to use during emergencies. JCP&L could commit to storing equipment there in advance to allow a faster response. The Township could commit the DPW to clearing this lot first and keeping it accessible. Reinforce with businesses and residents the need to clear downtown sidewalks within 24 hours and issues prompt citations to those that don’t comply. People need to be able to walk downtown safely to stores and transportation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll add to this list and start to develop action plans. Please feel free to contact Town Hall with your suggestions.