Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 12
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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Weather Forecast

Storm Report: Collaboration Was Key

Ellen Gilbert

Dramatic photographs of fallen trees and downed power lines accompanied Police Department Lt. Michael Henderson’s storm report at Township Committee’s Monday meeting.

“I have never seen the Police and Public Works Departments work so well together,” said Mr. Henderson, expressing a sentiment that was reiterated several times as other department representatives gave their respective reports.

Lt. Henderson described being “inundated with emergency calls,” with more than four hundred 911 calls received on Saturday alone. “We called the midnight shift in early,” he reported. Although the emergency operating system went into effect, he said, the presence of downed power lines made it difficult to clear streets that were blocked by fallen trees.

“Public Service did a tremendous job,” said Lt. Henderson, noting that additional crews came in from Georgia, Texas, and Pittsburgh.

Two people who requested shelter during the storm were referred to the Red Cross, Lt. Henderson said. In response to Committeewoman Liz Lempert’s question about whether there is a list of residents who require emergency assistance, Lt. Henderson said that there was not, but that the police “would respond to any calls of that nature.”

“Is there anything that we as community residents could have done to help?” asked Committeeman Lance Liverman.

“Spend quality time with your family instead of rushing out to buy more videos, and pay attention to signs,” Lt. Henderson replied, noting that if a person moves a barricade in order to get to their house, they should put the barricade back. The failure of drivers to be alerted to flooded areas resulted, he noted, in “many water rescues, which jeopardizes our ability to deliver first aid.”

“It’s been a tough year for Public Works,” said Superintendent Dan Hansen as he began his report. “In 38 years of being in Public Works I never felt so helpless. We were at the mercy of Public Service; we tried to do the best we could. It was like an army going through Princeton.”

“The coordination between the Police Department and Public Works was something I’ve never seen before,” said Mr. Hansen, echoing Lt. Henderson’s words.  “We’re not done. I have no idea how long it’s going to take to clean the mess up.” Anyone may help themselves to the logs that will be dumped in the Barbara Smoyer and Greenway Meadows Parks, he said.

Ms. Lempert wondered whether the many trees that came down were a result of a failure to identify those that were dead or ailing. “There was no rhyme or reason to what came down,” responded Mr. Hansen.

Fire Department Chief Dan Tomalin was eager to clarify a misconception that the Fire Department could pump out flooded basements. With “about 200 calls for service, we didn’t have the manpower,” he observed. He noted that the Fire Department’s primary responsibility is to secure the premises of a flooded building, to eliminate shorting and shock hazards, and prevent gas leaks. “Then we move on to the next one as soon as possible.”

“The first call came in at 1 a.m. on Saturday, and at the peak of the storm, eight of our nine stations were running on auxiliary power,” reported Sewer Operating Committee Manager Bob Hough. This seemed to confirm the department’s need for additional portable generators, he added. While the Convenience Center on River Road remains open on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on selected Saturdays, Mr. Hough indicated that it could be opened additional hours, if needed. According to the current schedule, the next dates for the center, which does not accept recyclables, are April 10 and 12.

Borough Emergency Services Director Mark Freda reported that after a review of “what worked and what didn’t” during the storm, there was agreement that in lieu of two separate operations, a “central emergency operating center” would be “a more modern, better-suited” way of handling similar crises. He also noted that access was a major complication in the storm, and that while PSE&G’s priorities were “how many homeowners can they help first,” the municipalities’ focus was on getting roads open. He said he hoped to ask PS$&G to dedicate at least one crew to those concerns in the future.

The recent announcement that state funding will provide only half of the $75,000 requested by the Township and Borough for a study of municipal consolidation was not discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Township Committee and Borough Council will hold a special joint meeting on Wednesday, March 31, at 7 p.m., at Township Hall to hear a presentation from Appraisal Systems about the recent revaluation project.

The next regular meeting of the Township Committee will be on Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m.

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