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Better Communication Needed, Watchung Residents Say

Borough Council hears frustrations and concerns following Sandy.

Residents at Thursday's Watchung Borough Council meeting at the borough courtroom said they felt in the dark, figuratively speaking, during the last two weeks while in the dark (literally).

"There were certain, key critical things we would have like to get a little more of," resident Jennifer Netta said before ticking off a list that included information on road closures, school closures, water issues, voter information, gas stations and updates from PSE&G on work in the area.

Netta urged borough officials to use social media sites, such as Twitter, and to create a borough Facebook page such as the Watchung Neighborhood Network Facebook page launched last year after the October snowstorm to enable residents to share information.

Ridge Road resident Diane Buono said the borough should look to increase the $3,500 Office of Emergency Management budget to help improve communications.

"There are a lot of ways to use communications cheaply," she said.

Other residents used the opportunity to report on or ask about dangerous situations they witnessed: group homes and seniors without power for days on end, or kids having to walk under low-hanging electrical wires.

Lakeview Avenue resident Bruce Ruck said many of the problems that arose had been discussed by the Board of Health, with possible solutions forwarded to the borough but no one on the council or in the borough offices said they had heard the proposals.

"I've been at every one of your meetings—OK, I missed one—in all the meetings I've been at, I never heard anything about what you just said," Councilman Steve Black said. 

Black asked why the proposals weren't pursued, but Dr. Ruck said the Board of Health was told the OEM would follow-up on the recommendations.

Dr. Ruck also said the borough should establish a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to assist in emergencies. Council President Deb Joren said she has been in contact with the county CERT coordinator to launch the program.

Mayor Gerald Mobus encouraged many to volunteer to help the town improve the communications, and to help implement efforts at responding to emergencies better.

"I can tell you in closing that nothing fell on deaf ears," he said. "We have a lot invested in this town...and I appreciate everything everyone says."

Mayor Mobus also listed the efforts of the borough to get information to residents, which included handing out leaflets, writing posters to place around town, activating the 1610 AM emergency radio station, wellness checks by Rescue Squad volunteers, and even driving around with a megaphone.

He also took a few minutes to recognize the efforts of borough police, employees and fire and Rescue Squad volunteers who spent hours on call and answering residents' requests during the week.   

"Every minute of every day, you were never compromised because they slept (at the station)," he said.

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