At the Nov. 20 Township Council meeting, Mayor James Barberio finally revealed serious problems—including a close call for the town's sewer plant—Parsippany endured during Superstorm Sandy. Lawmakers and residents heard more on what happened during the storm at Tuesday's agenda meeting at Town Hall.
In a special presentation before the council, Parsippany Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo and Capt. Jeffrey T. Storms, who head the local Office of Emergency Management, recounted a host of challenges township responders faced in tackling the storm.
Storms noted that Sandy, "one of the most devastating and destructive storms in our state's history," was the third major disaster to hit the township in 14 months, and the first disaster with OEM operating under the police department.
The captain said planning for the weather event began months before the department knew it was coming. He said he and Chief DeZenzo met with public safety officials from the county and the New Jersey State Police to "establish clear lines of communication, identify organizational roles and coordinate efforts of responding agencies" in the event of a large-scale disaster. Storms added that they also met with local emergency groups to share local OEM's philosophy on delivering services to residents during a crisis.
"As soon as news of the impending hurricane broke, Chief DeZenzo assembled a command staff at the police department and assessed staffing need for police officers, police special officers and dispatchers over a 10-day period starting Oct. 29," Storms reported.
He said they also met numerous times with Mayor James Barberio, Business Administrator Jasmine Lim and township department heads.
"We discussed preparedness, communication, staffing and maintaining the state of operations before, during and after the hurricane," he said, and the town, with help from local businesses, distributed more than 5,500 sandbags to Lake Hiawatha residents.
Once the storm hit Monday, Mayor Barberio declared a state of emergency and the town went to work, said Storms.
The storm brought with it immediate power outages for much of the town, he said, and town workers stayed busy. Volunteer group RACES was staffed 24 hours per day to help with communications. CERT volunteers staffed shelters and warming centers.
Storms also singled out Sgt. Yvonne Christiano and Ptlm. Earl Kinsey for the work they did constantly sending out information to the public throughout the storm via the PPD website and social media.
Police were busy throughout the emergency, said Capt. James Carifi, who addressed the council regarding the law enforcement response to Sandy.
He said officer stayed busy shutting down roads and redirecting traffic after the town lost power to traffic signals. Carifi noted that there were 136 downed trees, that 21 trees fell on houses and that there were 47 downed power lines. Police dealt with more than 200 service calls and even a domestic violence arrest during the storm, he said.
Carifi noted that the town's 19 gas stations also kept law enforcement busy when fuel was in short supply and motorists' tempers rose.
"People wanted to get gas and weren't able to," he said. "We had and officer hit by a car, an arrest at a gas station and the threat of a gun at another station."
Chief DeZenzo then introduced department heads, noting that during Sandy's visit, town officials and OEM had two meetings a day for all department heads to discuss issues that arose due to the storm.
Greg Schneider, head of the town's Department of Public Works described how his crews worked with police and OEM to serve residents.
"We were expecting 8-10 inches of rain," he said. "It was a blessing we didn't get it."
One difficulty he said his department faced was that "too many people didn't get the message about garbage not being picked up."
Schneider said that after some difficult days, his department was "back to full speed Thursday morning."
He added the road division helped Parks and Forestry crews in cleaning streets, "which we are still doing.
"I was very proud of what my men accomplished," he said.
Kevin Ryan, who directs the Water Department, told the council that his staff had 37 facilities to maintain.
"Keeping everything going was a nightmare," he said.
Ryan said that on the storm's first night, all of their facilities lost power. Generators helped get some of the infrastructure working again, but water was in short supply, and on Tuesday, Ryan said the first "conserve water" alert was sent to residents. The next day, water pumping ability was compromised somewhat, he said, but by Thursday all power had returned and operations went back to normal.
Phil Bober, who heads the town's sewer utility, said preparations for his department began a week before Sandy hit. Workers, he said, checked all electrical circuits and generators at each pump station, filled all diesel tanks and removed all debris in the plants so there wouldn't be any damage. when storm hit.
Once Sandy arrived, he said electricity became erratic and pumps started to shut down.
"At no time was there any danger we were going to lose sewer service for our town or the towns we serve," Bober asserted, noting that the town's plant serves 58 other towns. "Because of our efforts in helping other towns, they will probably pay for a good portion of overtime the storm forced us to incur."
Parks and Forestry Superintendent Jim Walsh reported that his crews worked and received with much help from other departments to clear roads and drain basins. He estimated that the job still is only 75 percent complete and should be finished by Christmas.
Human Services Director Barbara Ievoli thanked the Board of Education and the CERT volunteers for their help in ensuring that shelters and warming centers were available for residents during the storm.
"They say in a storm to prepare for 72 hours," Ievoli noted. "We ran 12 days," serving a total of more than 1,500 people who took shelter during Sandy.
Shelters were held first at Lake Hiawatha School, which suffered roof damage, forcing a new warming center opening at Littleton School, she said, adding that an overnight shelter was opened at Parsippany High School. That was eventually moved to the Parsippany Community Center to allow for the school buildings to prepare for the eventual return of students.
Ievoli thanked the businesses and residents who donated food and supplies to the shelter, adding that food expense for the shelters came to a total of only $300.
Summing up, Chief DeZenzo said that surviving Sandy was not about any one entity.
"It's about all people coming together to get through the worst disaster we've ever faced in Parsippany," he said. "This was a monumental undertaking."