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Sandy Exposes Gap in Toms River's Emergency Communications, Officials Say

Power outages from Hurricane Sandy and displaced residents showed limits of Reverse 911 for officials to reach the public during an emergency.

While communications have evolved profusely during the past three decades with the convergence of computing, telecommunications and handheld gadgets, Hurricane Sandy has shown the shortcomings of staying connected during emergencies.  

Toms River residents criticized officials Tuesday evening about an inability to stay informed during Hurricane Sandy and the following days during extensive power outages and large scale evacuations.

"With a storm of this magnitude, the township did its best," Township Council Vice President George Wittman said after Tuesday's Township Council meeting. "But when you try to rely on home phones and the Internet during power outages, it doesn't do much good."

The Township has a "Reverse 9-1-1" system that dials residents for emergencies, but it served little use to residents who had been evacuated or for those whose phones depend upon electricity.  Some residents from the Ortley Beach section of the township said they had to say they were from Seaside Heights to use the program.

"We will have to redo the Reverse 9-1-1 system," Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said at Tuesday night's council meeting.

Wittman said the township needs to examine a system that uses text messages and e-mail to reach the public, as well as regular phone lines.  He did not want to specify one technology over another, but he noted that neighboring towns have systems that reach 40,000 people within a minute.

Under the Reverse 911 system, an operator can identify the affected neighborhood or region of the county and record a message that describes the situation and recommends the protective actions residents should take.

The Reverse 911 system will automatically call out to all listed telephone numbers within that geographic area and deliver the recorded message. The system will attempt to redial those numbers that are busy or leave messages on answering machines for people who are not available.  

Wittman said, even with the availability of other systems, cell service was also impaired during the height of the storm.

Maria November 16, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Don't . Hope for the best however Prepare for the worst because our taxes will be going up because of this issue .
Maria November 16, 2012 at 12:40 AM
They are already spending for things that are a disgrace . People that were issued debit cards that were on the snap program in the last hurricane sold them on the street for half price to buy dope . Now if anyone really has 600 of food in their fridge on snap than I am ashamed to be working in America . You can feed cattle with 600 dollars a week in food .
Johnjcpa November 16, 2012 at 12:26 PM
The only information that most people were able to receive during the power outage was over the radio. Landlines and cell phone service was out until power was restored. It's a shame that WOBM failed to recognize their ability to give timely information and help during the crisis. Instead they played commercials for events that would not happen, stores that were closed, etc. There needs to be some provision for emergency powers to make use of the radio so the timely information can be provided when this happens the next time.
rich November 16, 2012 at 01:20 PM
johnjcps I totally agree wobm,failed once again in getting any info out,the only station that you would not feel so very alone in the dark and gave you info was 101.5 and when that went off the air we were no only in the dark physically/ but also for any information. Wobm your home town station,but what home town,I would like to know.
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