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Following an October Snow Storm

Nixle enables Verona to
Contact Citizens

Mayor Sapienza
ByFrank J. Sapienza
Mayor, Verona, Vice-Chair
NJLM's Mayor's Emergency
Management and Preparedness
Task Force

Heavy snow and high winds crippled northern New Jersey on Halloween weekend 2011. Cable, internet, and telephone services were disrupted throughout Verona, a suburban community of 13,500 in Essex County.

The Township of Verona Office of Emergency Management (OEM) activated our Emergency Operations Center the day before the storm was predicted to hit. OEM coordinated all aspects of storm response from the Emergency Operations Center in Town Hall. The OEM held coordination meetings twice each day. Participants included representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department, Rescue Squad, Public Works, Community Services and the Verona Board of Education.

The storm was the most severe in recent memory. In Verona alone, the clean-up costs exceeded $600,000.

As the snow began to fall, Township OEM Director Jeff Hayes and I, identified the need to maintain timely communications with residents. The communications environment worsened as the storm continued. Falling tree limbs knocked out cable television, internet, and telephone service throughout the community.

snow covered road with deep tire tracks

 

Heavy snow and high winds crippled northern New Jersey on Halloween weekend 2011. Cable, internet, and telephone services were disrupted throughout Verona, a suburban community of 13,500 in Essex County.

 

 

Portable radios became the principal means of communication between and among emergency responders. As OEM Director Jeff Hayes noted, “Verona uses a trunked two-way radio system. The trunked system enabled municipal departments to communicate during the storm.”

Verona Police Captain Mitchell Stern quickly realized that an existing text and email system—the Nixle Community Information Service—could fill the information and communications gap. The Police Department had pilot tested Nixle earlier in the year and was slowly expanding its use in Verona. The October storm accelerated Nixle’s expansion throughout the town.

Nixle is a community information system that provides secure and reliable connections between community agencies and residents. There is no local cost for the service.

Nixle sends text messages and emails to subscribers’ cell phones. Nixle is part of a consortium that includes NLETS (the International Justice and Public Safety Network). The service allows police departments nationwide to send immediate alerts and advisories. Our municipality is especially pleased with the communication initiative.

Verona Police Chief Douglas J. Huber summed it up well. “Our past efforts at reaching out to residents via email have been generally successful. Nixle, however, takes communication with residents to the next level. Most important, Nixle works when other media—the internet, for example—are down.”

I spoke about Nixle’s potential at a recent meeting of the League’s Mayor’s Emergency Management and Preparedness Task Force—a group that I serve as Vice-Chair. The response from the mayors who attended the meeting was very positive. I envision that Nixle will be a valuable arrow in the emergency management quiver for towns throughout New Jersey.

Nixle proves that technology is an effective method for connecting communities in times of emergency. The Nixle platform offers a secure and easy-to-use system to share information concerning emergency response, power outages, and other storm effects.

Nixle’s popularity has skyrocketed since the October storm. As of April 2012, over 2000 residents have signed up for the service.

Nationwide, Nixle has been used by law enforcement agencies to assist in finding missing persons, schedule evacuation of flooded areas, and aid in arresting suspects soon after a crime has been reported. It’s an especially valuable and flexible management and communication asset.

Messages sent via Nixle are organized into four categories:

• ‑Alert—Urgent situation, e.g., missing child, gas leak, or other emergency
• ‑Advisory—Time sensitive, e.g., school closure, no overnight parking due
to snow
• ‑Community Information—Somewhat time sensitive, e.g., delay of community events, availability of commu-nity services such as swine flu shots
• ‑Traffic—Current updates, e.g., road closures, lane closures, and signal outages.

The message category is determined by the Verona Police Department.
Nixle is a secure service that protects user privacy. Participation is voluntary. There are no advertisements. Lastly, Nixle does not collect and distribute user email addresses.

In sum, an unintended but very positive consequence of the October storm was the improvement of communication between town government and Verona’s residents.

Continually improving and expanding communicating with our residents is one of my highest priorities—a priority that is shared by our Council Members.

 

 

First published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 7, October 2012

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