Area residents might not be blamed for feeling like we're in the midst of a series of weather plagues that have struck Bernards Township and other parts of the state in recent years — we've had hurricanes, (or "superstorms") an unseasonal heavy snow that crushed trees and power lines and, before that, a December blizzard that required expensive clean-up efforts.
The township's Office of Emergency Management, and the the Bernards Township Local Emergency Planning and Flood Mitigation Committee that met last week, have been focusing this year on trying to plan ahead before the next prolonged power outage, without a weather disaster.
A meeting and court room renovation project now underway at the town hall at 1 Collyer Lane will play a big part in local emergency management planning, said Police Lt. Mike Shimsky, also Bernards Township Emergency Management Coordinator.
The upgrades, including the installation of a stand-alone generator, will allow the township to maintain continuity of government operations indefinitely in the event of another disruptive event like Sandy, Shimsky said.
The renovation project approved by the Township Committee earlier this year calls for about $300,000 worth of upgrades will be made over the next few months to modernize and improve electronics, communications and other equipment in a combined courtroom and meeting room at the town hall.
A separate project for about $175,000 calls for the purchase and installation of a reliable generator that can power the building, and also includes moving the smaller municipal generator to the health department building off South Finley Ave.
"The building will also power all of our communications servers and phone equipment to allow uninterrupted communication with the residents and employees through our various outlets," Shimsky said.
The meeting room facility additionally will have the capability of acting as a reception and warming shelter and charging station for residents that experience extended periods without power or essentials, Shimsky pointed out.
The town hall could then also act as a point of distribution for essential items in the event of an emergency, such as food or water.
Shimsky said the room is being "smartly configured as a true multi-purpose facility, with removable chairs, partitions, and power/data ports among other things, that will truly satisfy many of our needs."
Township emergency planners later this year will launch the Swiftreach 911 system later, Shimsky said. The system will use existing databases as well as allow residents to sign up for emergency notifications by way of text, cell phone or email, he said.
The township health department building, located near Ridge High School, will receive the smaller generator that partially powers town hall now, said Shimsky and other municipal officials.
"The health department has been always a critical component in dealing with public health issues and is an integral part of administering our Emergency Operations Plan and its annexes," Shimsky said. With a generator on site, the health department would be able to conduct operation from the department's offices without disruption, Shimsky said.
Lucy Forgione, township health office, said the health department’s work in emergency planning is ongoing including, staff training, updating the health department’s website and public education.
The health department presenting is working with the police department on a fact card that residents can use for emergency planning and important information during an emergency.
The health department’s biggest role is public education, she said. Planning for emergencies is ongoing, Forgione advised. She said residents should take the time to make a plan, get a kit and be informed: "They would be one step ahead of any unforeseen disaster."