Jackson Mayor, OEM Lend Helping Hand to other County Communities hit hard by Sandy
In 2011, Jackson Township was hardest hit by Hurricane Irene when raging flood waters damaged bridges, flooded homes and caused havoc in the township. In 2012, Jackson was spared any major lasting damage, so Mayor Mike Reina mobilized and enabled local volunteers to help other communities.
The one-two punch delivered by the havoc of Hurricane Sandy and subsequent 12-inch snowstorm could not knock down the spirited community of Jackson. Still reeling from the hurricane that pummeled the community on October 29th, the township and surrounding areas found themselves clobbered yet again as a snowstorm smothered homes and businesses only nine days later. Adding insult upon injury, many had not yet had their power restored after losing it from the extensive damage inflicted by the hurricane; repairs to damaged roads, utility wires, buildings, businesses and homes had only just begun when the heavy snow added a new layer of problems to the mess.
How did the community of Jackson respond? By coming out in droves to help, and not just in their own township. “The determination and strength shown by the Jackson community would make any mayor proud,” says Jackson Mayor Michael Reina. “This town pulled together like one huge team, going above and beyond more than I have ever seen before. Not just a handful, but volumes and volumes of people from this great community came forward to help here in Jackson, as well as in surrounding towns and in locations along the shore impacted worst of all. No matter what people lost, they were still asking, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ There are 54,000 people in this community of ours, and I don’t think I received even a handful of complaints during this hardship.”
Mayor Reina noticed people offering assistance in any way they could, from donating whatever cash their pockets held to collecting endless supplies of blankets, clothing, food, water and flashlights to sustain those in need. Many volunteered their time, hour after hour, to distribute supplies and clear debris from roads and properties. Others opened their homes, providing warmth, homecooked meals, washers and dryers, hot showers and sleeping quarters whenever it was needed to whomever needed it, no credit sought and no questions asked. At the supplies trailer, people left their phone numbers in case anyone needed anything.
Although too humble to admit to his and his family’s own offerings during this trying time, word of Mayor Reina’s dedication to his community has spread. His door was always open to those needing food, warmth and amenities– his generator kept his home partially running during his family’s 12 days without power. As part of a convoy of trucks with trailers attached, the mayor made multiple trips from Jackson to Manahawkin and Tuckerton to deliver supplies desperately needed by those severely affected by the superstorm, then helped tend to those affected by the subsequent N’oreaster and its foot of heavy snow. He also assisted with clearing debris and cutting up fallen trees to clear roadways. For 36 hours straight, Mayor Reina did not return home after the initial arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Laura, his wife, volunteered at the supplies trailer, amazed that many just needed someone to talk to, someone to listen.
It was important to Mayor Reina to take this opportunity to extend thanks to all that helped the Jackson community pull through difficult time: the tireless first responders and the Office of Emergency Management; the resilient residents and businesses; the department of public works, its director Fred Rasiewicz and all township personnel; JCP&L and its team of out-of-state co-workers; the fire departments and police department of Jackson Township; and all those who volunteered and are still volunteering their time and services to restoring the township.
To help with the arduous cleanups that loom ahead over the next several months, the township has issued a storm exemption at public works, where commercial trucks and vehicles with commercial license plates can now drop off brush and debris. Mayor Reina and the township’s officials are also addressing the lack of accurate, current information available during massive area power outages. In light of this problem during Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent snowstorm, the mayor and his team are planning alternative means of contact when communication via the township’s usual routes of public announcements, phone calls, text messages, website updates, email blasts and social media postings are not an option.
In a township covering 100 square miles with many rural areas, it critical to keep everyone accurately informed and up-to-date when power outages arise in emergency situations. Communication is challenging yet key in times like this to provide a sense of security and order while avoiding the hysteria that ensues from media sensationalism and rumors. Mayor Reina experienced first-hand the frustration of being unable to connect due to a loss of power and cell tower signals. “After the snowstorm, I went outside at 3:15 a.m. to assess the situation, climbing over and under the downed trees in my driveway, trying to get to the road to get a signal so I could call and find out what was going on. Around 15 minutes later, I saw headlights, which turned out to be a Jackson police officer coming to check in on me because I was not at the OEM office and they were not able to contact me.”
To provide township-wide communication during emergency situations involving power losses, Mayor Reina and his team are looking to implement a “close line communication,” where each segment of the Jackson community will have a block leader who receives current, accurate information and updates from those directly in charge of the situation. Information will then pass down the chain of command and filter out through predetermined community groups so that everyone is connected with direct, clear messages.
As Jackson and the surrounding communities begin the long road of reconstruction and rebuilding of structures, businesses and lives, strong spirits and unification will be essential to progress. Mayor Reina remains confident that his community has already proven themselves up to the challenge and ready to help.
Photo: Jackson Mayor Mike Reina (2nd from left) with volunteers at the King of Kings Church in Manhawkin.
-Article written by Christa Riddle, owner of All About Writing, www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com