Secaucus plans to roll out a new emergency notification system in mid-April to alert residents in case of a major event such as a hurricane, flood, or other major disaster. The town has a contract with Swiftreach Networks in the amount of $3,995 to create a database with the Verizon and Comcast networks of phone numbers throughout town. Residents that do not have landlines or use other phone carriers will be able to voluntarily enter their contact information on the town’s web site in order to be included.
“In the case of an emergency we have the ability to contact everyone on the list,” said Charles Schumacher, director of communications and security systems. He met with the company in Mahwah last week to hammer out details and get a tour of their facilities.
Notifying specific areas
He said the town can also isolate a specific area, region, or ward to send an announcement via the emergency notification system.
“If there is flooding in Harmon Cove, we want to tell people to move to higher ground and go park in the Crowne Plaza parking garage…or tell people on Mill Ridge Road to bring their cars up to the library,” noted Schumacher.
Based on a survey conducted by the Swiftreach Networks, the list will include up to 6,000 residential numbers and 1,000 industrial numbers. He said that the list should include an updated database of senior citizen numbers and those who need special assistance. The town has a total of 6,000 dwellings according to Schumacher. The Secaucus population is more than 16,000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“It would take 4 or 5 minutes,” said Schumacher regarding the time it takes to reach every number on the list. He added that the system also issues a report as to whether the calls were answered and/or whether residents listened to the entire message.
“The key is to be able to get a message out.” – Charles Schumacher
Secaucus is located in a low-lying area comprised of wetlands and marshes that give rise to flooding especially during regular and heavy rains. Last year elevated water tables and constant storms caused major flooding during Hurricane Irene, which swept through town in August 2011. Several Secaucus residents had to be rescued by boat and many more spent weeks recovering from the storm, which caused town-wide power outages, an overflow of the Hackensack River, and fallen trees.
During Hurricane Irene the Office of Emergency Management went door to door handing out flyers to warn residents of the storm and to inform them of evacuation measures. With the new emergency notification system, the police or fire chief, the OEM coordinator, or other town officials can access the system via telephone, or internet to instantly notify residents via their phones of any oncoming disaster. The town will also post a message on the town’s web site and Channel 36 with emergency information.
“The key is to be able to get a message out,” said Schumacher. He said that he hopes residents will cooperate once notified.
“We are going to be serious about it. If water is coming down your block – it [literally] is coming down your block.”
The emergency notification system will be tested among a select group, most likely town employees, once the system is live, according to Schumacher. While the system can also be used to announce if a summer concert is canceled due to rain, for example, town officials did not anticipate using it for non-emergencies.
Sirens to go off for extreme cases
Signs went up in Secaucus last week alerting residents that when they hear the emergency warning siren or announcement to tune to Channel 36, local radio, television, or www.secaucusnj.org for information.
Secaucus has four of the county-wide sirens, installed years ago under a federal grant, that will go off in the event a major disaster. The siren is extremely loud and can also broadcast a message. The sirens were originally put in to warn residents of a terrorist attack but can be used to signal a major disaster.
“The siren is the extreme end of the protocol,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “That is the last thing we would turn to.” He gave the example that the town may sound the siren in the first ward, for example, if there was a chemical fire.
Adriana Rambay Fernández can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.