The Hoboken City Council approved spending almost $1 million on emergency generators for several public safety hubs and a military-grade high water vehicle on Wednesday night at the request of several of the city’s officials, who said such equipment might have bolstered Hoboken’s Hurricane Sandy response almost a year ago.
The emergency generators, which will be custom-built and installed at least 13 feet above sea level, will be placed in 10 locations around the city, eight of which are considered to be crucial to public safety. They include City Hall, police headquarters, and three firehouses, including those on Observer Highway and Jefferson Street that were flooded during the storm.
Fire Chief Richard Blohm said that during the Sandy recovery period, people had come to firehouses in search of refuge, but found that the firemen were in a situation not so different from their own.
“Our firehouses that didn’t lose power became community refuges, places where people came for rest and information,” he said. “All of our firehouses could have benefited from generators.”
Acquiring a high water vehicle like the one that was used by the National Guard in Hoboken directly following the storm has been a priority of the city since the approach of hurricane season in May.
Resolutions to purchase the vehicle have appeared on previous council agendas, but were not approved. On Wednesday, Police Chief Anthony Falco and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Kenneth Ferrante made their case before the council.
“This isn’t simply a vehicle that can be used for hurricanes,” said Falco. “I believe it can be retrofitted with a plow and a tow as well, so it could be used in an entire variety of situations.”
“We can’t attack these issues as ‘Oh, let’s just try and make it through the next emergency.’” – OEM Coordinator Ken Ferrante
“I remember we were trying to get to the senior buildings, and when we got there no one had any idea what was going on; there were Alzheimer’s patients just walking around,” he, said. “We can’t attack these issues as ‘Oh, let’s just try and make it through the next emergency.’ With this vehicle, we’ll be on the fast track to making this city more resilient.”
Arguments over bonding
The generators and high water vehicle will be paid for, in part, by a $965,000 bond, leading some council members, mainly Zimmer’s opponents, to question the method of payment. Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo several times likened the administration’s continued use of bonding to using a credit card, noting that “someday, the bill’s going to be due.”
“A lot of these projects may not be completed by the end of the year,” he said. “Why, instead of bonding for them this year, don’t we wait and insert them into next year’s budget?”
Council President Peter Cunningham, who works in finance, and Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla, disputed Russo’s notion that bonding is like using a credit card, noting the city’s lack of current debt and the current low interest rates available to municipalities.
Since Hurricane Sandy, the city has bonded nearly $7.5 million in emergency funds. Not including the $965,000 for the generators, the city still has a remaining $720,000 to spend on Sandy-proofing.
Business administrator Quentin Weist, perhaps in an effort to curb Russo’s worries over the continued bonding, said that he expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to refund about 90 percent of Hoboken’s appropriations. Weist did not, however, have a timeline for when that might happen.
City kicks off ‘Hoboken Ready’
Falco, Blohm, and Ferrante joined Mayor Dawn Zimmer and other city officials in thanking the council for passing the appropriations ordinance at a press briefing on Wednesday, also announcing the kickoff of the “Hoboken Ready” resiliency program. The program is led by OEM and coordinated by the civilian Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT was first organized following Hurricane Irene, but didn’t gather momentum until after Sandy. Now it has over 60 members, and an upcoming training class is already full.
CERT’s main focus during an emergency, explained Lou Casiano, the team’s coordinator, would be to step in and assist police, firefighters, and first aid squads with non-emergency tasks.
“With the CERT team manning the phones during a disaster,” said Zimmer, “our police officers and firefighters can deal with the real emergencies.”
Additionally, CERT and city officials have compiled information into two flyers, in English and Spanish, on preventative and reactive measures home and business owners can take during Hurricane Season. The flyers will be sent out in the city’s fall newsletter, said Zimmer, and are also available on the city’s website.
The city has also joined with the Shop Rite of Hoboken, located on the corner of Ninth and Madison Streets, to sell a Hoboken Ready resiliency kit, which, besides food, is equipped with many of the emergency items one should have at home during an emergency.
“We really believe that in an urban environment, people should be able to self-shelter,” said Zimmer. “If they have the right things, they should be able to stay safe inside.”
The kit contains, among other things, a flashlight, poncho, duct tape, water packets, and batteries. The kits will be on sale starting on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Zimmer said that the city and Shop Rite hadn’t settled on a cost yet, but that the city would help every resident procure one, regardless of economic situation.
CERT will also hold several Hoboken Ready community meetings as part of the outreach wing of its mandate. They will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10 at Wallace Elementary School (11th Street and Willow Avenue), Thursday, Sept. 12 at the Multiservice Center at 124 Grand St., and Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 601-603 Jackson St., all at 7 p.m. A meeting specially designed for senior citizens will take place Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m., at the Multiservice Center (124 Grand St.)
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org