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Watchung Volunteers, Officials Worked Constantly In Response To Sandy

Letter to the editor

Watchung Borough Government began operations for Sandy on Sunday, Oct. 28, when Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Greves opened up the OEM ( Office of Emergency Management ) Command Center. Mayor Jerry Mobus, Gary and the Borough professional team were at first concerned with potentially serious flooding issues so the lakes were lowered in preparation for this event. When Sandy arrived the destructive high winds were the most serious concern as heavy rains did not really materialize.

Watchung has many participants on the emergency management team and a summary of their actions during the emergency follows:

1. Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Greves is in charge during any emergency in accordance with Federal and State law. Gary remained in daily contact with Somerset County OEM and oversaw all emergency operations. Gary will also coordinate all activities regarding FEMA ( Federal Emergency Management Agency) including Borough efforts to seek reimbursements from FEMA. He established warming centers at Brandywine Assisted Living Center on Mountain Blvd. and at Mt. St. Marys Academy ( McAuley Hall). Gary worked with his counterpart in Warren for Watchung residents to be able to use the warming center at the Court in Warren and also at Stonehouse Community Church on Technology Drive in Warren. Shelters were set up through County OEM at Bernards High School and briefly at Raritan Valley Community College. Former Fire Chief Skip Bell was deputized by Gary and the Mayor to coordinate and facilitate the work of the utility crews, primarily PSE&G in Watchung. Skip also worked with JCP&L crews that service a small part of Watchung.

2. Public Works---led by Public Works Manager Bob Burns and Foreman Andy Baldasarre their primary effort involved clearing the streets for emergency vehicle/equipment access and to look for dangerous hanging tree limbs and branches. Coordinating and overseeing debris removal ( tree parts) will continue to be a major function of Public Works for weeks to come. In addition they responded to the winter weather emergency that arrived on Nov. 7.

3. Police Department--- Under the command of Chief Tim Wenzel traffic control was a top priority due to downed wires and trees. The lack of traffic signalization on Rt. 22 needed to be immediately addressed. 911 calls were answered effectively and expediently as is customary and some security and order needed to be maintained at a few of the gasoline service stations the first few days of the emergency. Traffic security and safety had to be provided to the utility crews working in Watchung. Our Police worked hand in hand with all other Borough service areas such as Fire, Public Works, Emergency Management and our Rescue Squad.

4. Volunteer Fire Department volunteers, led by Chief Tom Carlucci, worked around the clock in the interests of our residents and taxpayers. Some volunteers even slept at the Firehouse facility to assure more enhanced and efficient response. Chief Carlucci, Assistant Chief Pete Martino and our volunteers responded to a variety of problems such as fire calls in Watchung, fire calls through our mutual aid system to help other towns, investigating concerns about generator safety and other storm related emergencies. The volunteers also responded to many carbon monoxide calls mostly created by the excessive and improper use of generators.

5. Rescue Squadmembers, under the direction of Adam Wexler, handled injury calls in addition to performing welfare checks daily. These welfare checks mostly involve shut-ins that are elderly and our Squad members make it a point to look out for their welfare and safety. There was not a reported death or serious injury as a result of Sandy's devastation.

6. Borough Hall Staff and Borough Civilian staff-- under the direction of Borough Administrator Tom Atkins and Borough Clerk Michelle DeRocco employees devoted their energies to assisting and helping our residents. With the exception of the Nov. 6 Election all efforts were channeled to helping out with the myriad of Sandy problems.

FEMA representatives have been to the Borough often and are still here working. It is anticipated that FEMA officials will be in Watchung through the balance of November. A phone number for assistance is 1-800-621-3362. Some residents may be eligible for FEMA help. FEMA information is posted on the website. Daily conference calls were conducted by PSE&G with municipal leaders. These calls were monitored by Mayor Mobus, Council President Deb Joren, Ms. DeRocco and Mr. Atkins. Mayor Mobus and Ms. Joren also met and conferred with State of New Jersey legistative leaders Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, Senator Tom Kean, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and also with Congressman Leonard Lance. Gov. Chris Christie was also advised of the issues. There is still much work to do. Please check the Borough website for updates.

Jerry Mobus

John November 12, 2012 at 09:52 PM
The communication from the Mayor was terrible. No residents seemed to know what if any progress was being made. A simple table in Watchung circle with information would have eliminated the feeling most residents I talked to felt about the Mayor's lack of communication. My mayor in Brick where I have a shore house was in touch by cell and email daily. Watchung officials need to stop patting each other on the back and get an up to date plan going forward. You can not check a website without power. Other then one hand out early on, the Mayor, who doesn't return phone calls during normal times was invisable as far as we are concerned.
Frank Wenzel November 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM
I second John's comment. The treatment I received from a Watchung police office when I was in need of assistance was utterly disgraceful. When people are in distress, you help them. The mayor did nothing. Other than a lame notification stuck in our mailbox that didn't provide any contact phone #'s, email addresses, notification on the power return. For a small town that has amentities up the wazoo, the borough did not act as well as they could have.
Tom Agugliaro November 13, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Very disappointed with the towns communication during this storm. If it weren't for some great neighbors who banded together on Ridge road and cut trees from the road we would still be stuck there. As far as communications our only resource was the Watchung Network on Facebook.
Dolores Clarke November 15, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Ditto, Tom, Frank, and John. Lack of information, empty roads with one policeman herding traffic off parts of Valley Road, etc. Watchung was a ghost town. If a bear is spotted in town, calls go out. Power failure instructions -- nada! For retired people paying huge taxes on our property, we demand few services from the Boro. We can't get leaf cleaning, road paving, civil answers from police even under normal circumstances. Stop patting yourself on the back, Mr. Mayor and referring complaints on to others and off your desk.

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