I am not a member of the town’s Emergency Management Commiittee and as such I am not privy to its actions or communication during crises. The Mayor and Public Safety Commissioner hold that responsibility along with our Administrator and Department Heads.
In the early days after the storm I realized that the town was not doing all that it could. I sent a list of suggestions to all of the Committee members. I received no response so I wrote a letter to the Patch urging action. During this time I also did what I could personally to help individuals, utility crews, displaced people at the shelter, etc., but this is not about me. At a time of crisis the first job of elected officials is to ensure that the apparatus of government gets fully deployed to provide maximum assistance to citizens. Frankly, we could and should have done better.
As it happens, the Mayor chose to take off for a vacation after the storm left two thirds of the town without power. I regret that choice and the leadership vacuum left in its wake. In these situations the Mayor is our principal contact and advocate with PSE&G. Powerless citizens could learn nothing about the difficulties there for two long, cold weeks. But that is past. At our subsequent meeting I did not raise that question or personally attack anyone. I did state that we need to do a post mortem to learn from the lessons of what we could have done better in order to strengthen our protocols and improve resiliency.
As specific examples I noted that the town’s nonemergency online channels needed improvement and that we should have a nonemergency coordinator for information like what stores are open, where can people obtain food or prescriptions, where is gas available, safety suggestions about connecting generators and the risks present when power lines reenergize, the location of warming stations and internet access, etc.
We should offer informal progress updates, if for no other reason because they also convey some comfort and reassurance to people in trying situations. I have proposed we stand up a permanent emergency volunteer committee to organize those willing and available to help neighbors during these kinds of events. Further, we need a means of more effectively connecting available help and donations with the knowledge of where the need exists that police and fire and other responders acquire.
The Mayor and others chose to respond with the politics of personal attack. That did not come as a surprise but neither does it help us move forward in a constructive way. We see two very different visions of government operating here. One, a minimalist, everyone is on their own approach and another that strives to find imaginative ways that government can do better to improve the quality of people’s lives, often at reduced cost or no incremental cost, by discerning better, faster cheaper ways to do things.
In any event, the election is over. Cranford has begun its post storm return to normalcy. We need to eschew personal attacks and character assassination and move forward together positively.
Commissioner Edward O’Malley
Township of Cranford