The Calm Before the Storm: Police Chief’s on the ground assessment before Irene
Being the person responsible for the safety of a community of 91,000 residents is no easy task, even on an average day. However, for Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy, Saturday, August 27th was anything but a normal day for the town’s top police officer. Yet, despite the ongoing logistical problems and Hurricane Irene with sights set on Toms River, Mastronardy was calm, cool, collective and in charge. Throughout the morning, Mastronardy drove around the community, interacting with local residents and maintaining a command presence from his truck, coordinating police efforts across the township.
Throughout his travels, he made sure everything was going according to plan, and when it wasn’t he was making sure the plan was being adjusted in order to serve the residents most effectively and efficiently.
In the morning, he made sure to visit the community centers at the Lake Ridge and Silver Ridge adult communities to make sure the residents had everything they needed and were preparing for the storm. He spent time with local residents, explaining to them what was going on, what’s to be expected and what to do should they require assistance during the storm.
From there, Mastronardy received a call that the Pine Belt Arena shelter was at capacity. He quickly called Toms River Schools Superintendent Frank Roselli to assess the situation at the recently opened Intermediate North shelter and recommended school officials begin preparing Toms River High School East. During the minor crisis, the chief visited the Pine Belt Arena and made sure proper security measures were being taken by all involved. After having some minor issues regarding the sign in process regarding screening for those with criminal backgrounds, he walked the gymnasium, speaking to those who sought shelter. Mastronardy polled the evacuees making sure their needs were being met and that they were being taken care of adequately. On the way out, Mastronardy met up with the Director of Public Works, Mayor Kelaher and Frank Roselli to discuss the situation on the ground.
After leaving the arena with minor concerns addressed to the Red Cross, he then went to the Intermediate North shelter to make sure things were going smooth there. After all, a first hand assessment can show much more than a phone call and a report. Pleased with the situation at the shelters by all involved, Mastronardy then crossed over the bridge to the barrier island for a final on-scene inspection of the seaside communities. Very few remained on the island, but Mastronardy made sure to speak to each resident still on the island that he saw, asking if they need assistance and reminding them about the potential danger coming from Irene.
Once his on the ground assessment of the barrier island was complete, he headed back and drove along the bayfront commnunities along Fischer Boulevard, again speaking to residents and making sure they knew the Toms River Police Department and Emergency Management would be there for them should they need assistance.
One of the benefits the chief and local emergency officials had during Irene that had not existed in prior hurricanes was the level of communications and technology. From the road, the chief and other officials were in instant contact with each other. From the mayor, to OEM headquarters at Miller Air Park to the school officials and Police Department, the handling of any unexpected flare up or kink in the plan could be dealt with in a matter of seconds.
Mastronardy said the planning for the storm was going well but confided that he felt the media may have hyped up the event unecessarrily causing mild panic, but said in the end, the residents who live along the water in Toms River have been through this before and know what to do. “They’ve been through storms through the years. They can look out and know when to get out. They have a feel for how it affects their area.” he said “I tell them if they have cable tv and power and can be updated. They will know when it’s time to get out, if it’s necessary.”
Aside from flooding the township was spared any major damage from the hurricane. Clean up from the storm has revolved around tree removal, roadway clearing, power line repair and flooding. On Monday, in the aftermath of the storm, roadways remained closed, some residents were still without power and detours were a common sight throughout the township.