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TONY BEST: Preparation key to crisis control


TONY BEST

TONY BEST: Preparation key to crisis control

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ADRIAN MAPP, a Bajan immigrant and  mayor of Plainfield in New Jersey, described last week’s blizzard that blanketed the City with 30 inches of snow as one of the worst in about 100 years.

As the City’s top elected official, Mapp had to ensure that the City wasn’t cut off from the rest of New Jersey and that things were returned to a state of normalcy immediately after the severe act of nature.

“It really stretched all of our resources to the limit. We had to deploy our entire department of public works resources. Most of the employees worked 38 hours straight, some about 40 hours or so,” Mapp explained.

For this man who grew up in St George experiencing perpetual warm weather and regular heavy downpours, the impact of the blizzard was an experience he doesn’t want to relive.

“It was tough going,” was the way he described how he mobilised the City services to meet people’s needs.

With more than 100 miles of roadway to clear; snow-covered vehicles everywhere; and ploughs, often unable to work around the cars and trucks owners left behind and failed to move off the streets, the mayor and his emergency team had to use every ounce of ingenuity to get the job done.

“Many of our residents didn’t take up our offer of parking their vehicles in a public parking garage so as to free up the roadways and allow the ploughs to clean the snow as we had wanted. That adversely affected the flow of traffic,” he explained. “The main roads were ploughed effectively but the small side streets were a different story. Unfortunately, we had to tow away vehicles so as to continue the cleanup effort in the aftermath of the storm.

“We even brought n private contractors to help remove the mountains of snow. But we received complaints from some residents who were accustomed to seeing us cleaning up snow immediately after a heavy snowfall of about eight or ten inches, but we never had anything like this blizzard.”

The mayor, now at the mid-point of his four-year term in office, credits preparation before the blizzard for being able to get things done with a minimum of disruption.

That preparation started once meteorologists began predicting the historic snowfall several days before it hit. That was when the mayor assembled his emergency management team consisting of the police director, fire chief, the office of emergency management, director of the department of public works and all of the other heads of the municipal departments.

By last Thursday, the streets were being salted ahead of the storm to speed up the melting of the snow and City vehicles were filled with gasoline ready to be deployed.

“We had to prepare for any emergency that would involve the use of ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles and all the plans were ready to go, just in case,” said Mapp.

A key to success was the ability to communicate with the public so that residents knew what was happening, the storm’s progress storm and the clean-up afterwards, he explained.

“We have a communication tool that I use, and it is the Plainfield mass communication system which allows us to reach every household in the City which has a telephone, be it a landline or a cell-phone,” he said. “We just blast out messages a couple of days before the blizzard and afterwards. We also used a cellphone communication system to get the word out. It worked.”

What advice would he give Barbados should it face a potentially damaging emergency?

“You just have to be prepared. Preparation, preparation, preparation. That’s what I would tell  Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart,” said the mayor.

Tony Best is the NATION’s North American correspondent. Email [email protected]

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