I and many of my neighbors had a much different impression of city hall’s performance related to Hurricane Sandy than your recent letter writer.
We were all completely caught off guard by the storm surge and we cannot hold the government responsible for the damage and lost power. However, the government’s responsibility to stay in touch with the needs of its citizens and respond to those needs in whatever way possible is to be underscored in times of crisis rather than suspended. In this, the mayor, city council and various department heads fell down.
In preparation for Hurricane Irene, there was a barrage of announcements in the days before the storm from fire department trucks, city trucks and volunteers on foot notifying people to evacuate low level apartments, move all vehicles off the streets and stock up on water and food. While the storm did not bring the same widespread loss of power and flooding, the fact that a huge number of people had left town and the streets were empty of vehicles certainly sped the cleanup and return to normalcy.
It is incomprehensible why we saw none of last year’s storm preparation for Sandy. Few people left town (until after the storm hit) and the streets were filled with vehicles as usual. While stunned and stuck in our houses on Tuesday, there continued to be zero announcements or any communication whatsoever except for passing fire and city trucks who responded to questions with “Ask the mayor”, “No one tells us anything”, “We know nothing”. There were numerous joyriders (including city workers) who roared down the street shooting videos and sending waves of water against our houses.
When the water receded Wednesday morning, I walked to city hall to learn the state of things and found the building largely vacant except for an emergency management official (and small crew) who was more interested in talking about his fatigue and flooded apartment. I then walked to our three sub stations to make my own assessment which was aided by a PSE&G inspector at one of the locations. When I returned to city hall on Thursday and was told by the mayor’s office to consult the city website for information, I realized I was wasting my time at city hall.
Looking ahead, will an objective study and/or report be assembled analyzing the city’s preparation and response to the storm? If done properly, this would be enormously useful given that city hall clearly had no plan in place for communicating during a long term power outage since it took 3-4 days before city hall began outreach. Since city hall workers were sent home on Monday without being given the option to work, they were not available to help.
While the mayor did an excellent job getting national media attention begging for assistance, she would be well advised to learn the difference between being a citizen activist (leading volunteers) and a mayor (leading a team of directors, council members and department heads). This also applies to council members who need to understand when to drop the political differences and band together with their opponents for the sake of their constituents.