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Sheriff's office challenged by weather

Sheriff Strada praises the efforts of those involved in preparing for and assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

There is an old adage that warns about relaxing during the calm before a storm. In the days immediately preceding Hurricane Sandy’s attack on New Jersey, however, the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office was a virtual hotbed of activity.

In anticipation of the storm, Sheriff Strada ordered his deputy emergency management coordinators to meet with the county fire marshal, county administrator, and various other representatives of county government along with all of the police chiefs, fire chiefs, each of the municipal OEM coordinators, and emergency medical service personnel from the first aids squads throughout the county to discuss plans for the county’s coordinated response to Hurricane Sandy. Vacations and leave times for essential personnel were cut short or cancelled outright and the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was proactively placed on generator power to ensure no breaks in emergency communications.

Then came the storm.

We all know what followed. Trees uprooted or felled throughout the county, structural damage to many homes, main roads closed, approximately 90% of Sussex County without power, residents scrambling for generators, families without water and customers waiting on 3-hour lines for fuel. This was the challenging environment the Sheriff’s Office functioned in during the days which followed.

In addition to their regular patrol duties, including checks on the welfare of affected citizens, providing security to both the county jail and Superior Court, and the transportation of certain displaced residents to and from emergency shelters, Sussex County sheriff’s officers were also assigned to the Sussex County EOC from the onset of Hurricane Sandy until the close of recovery operations.

At first glance, the EOC looked like a smaller version of NASA’s mission control. Multiple computer terminals, each designated to an operator assigned to a specific task, lined the desks. At each desk, a representative of one of the branches of county government fielded telephone calls and disseminated information to the other branches. To the front of the room, multiple screens provided information regarding relevant news, weather and situational data. Members of the Sheriff’s Office, Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson, along with representatives from the county departments of environmental and public health services, engineering and planning, human services, central and shared services, as well as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), joined liaisons from the utility companies, the American Red Cross and other community professionals involved in preparedness, monitoring, response and recovery. They all filled the room each day to assist in the coordination of the county’s response to Hurricane Sandy. Sheriff’s officers assigned to that post were responsible for handling requests for assistance and material from municipalities and attempting to obtain those materials from the state OEM. Additionally, they assisted in forwarding important topical information to the county to be continuously updated on the Sussex County web site and forwarded road closure and power failure information to representatives from Jersey Central Power and Light (JCPL&L).

Beginning roughly forty-eight hours after Hurricane Sandy raged through Sussex County, sheriff’s officers, along with law enforcement personnel from several other local police agencies, began patrolling and monitoring gas stations throughout Sussex County to ensure proper distribution of fuel and to prevent civil unrest.

Sheriff’s officers remained around the clock at the American Red Cross shelter located at the Sussex County Technical School for the duration of its operation. They were there to supervise the security and safety of the approximately 800 displaced Sussex County residents who had utilized that shelter during the state of emergency. Additionally, sheriff’s officers transported and distributed equipment and supplies to the American Red Cross shelter located at the Hopatcong high school which aided in excess, of 7,000 displaced residents throughout the storm.

Sheriff’s officers were also tasked with escorting representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) throughout the county to assess the damage from the storm.

As much of the county lost power, the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility was no exception. The jail was without direct power for approximately three days. During that time, sheriff’s corrections officers maintained security, order, and continued the day-to-day operations of overseeing approximately 190 incarcerates with limited back-up power.

Throughout the recovery, members of the Sheriff’s Office assigned to the Sussex County OEM continued to distribute ice and water to local OEM coordinators so that it could be distributed to their town’s residents. During the storm and its aftermath, over 13,500 cases of bottled water, 4,370 bags of ice and over 1,200 sandbags were distributed throughout the county for residents in need.

Sheriff Strada would like to sincerely thank the following groups for all of their assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Local and county dispatchers, the Sussex County Fire Marshal, township chiefs of police and chiefs of fire departments, municipal OEM coordinators, volunteer fire and EMS personnel throughout the county, elected government officials from the town, county, state, and federal levels, public works departments at both the municipal and county levels, the Sussex County departments of environmental and public health services, engineering and planning, human services, central and shared services, CERT, FEMA, representatives of both local power companies, the volunteers of the American Red Cross, all local and state level law enforcement officers, and the men and women of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, bureaus of both law enforcement and corrections.

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