Just like North Bergen a year ago, Guttenberg has now implemented a notification system in which residents can be phoned in the event of an emergency, school closing, or other important incident.
Director of Public Safety Michael Caliguiro said that approximately 5,000 phone numbers are in the system to be called in the case of an emergency. He said that the population of Guttenberg is estimated to be around 10,000 to 13,000, and assuming that each family of two to three people would share one phone line, the town is mostly covered in the system.
For residents who believe Verizon does not have their number on file, or for those who want to add cell phone numbers, the town will post an online form on their website starting this week allowing residents to add new numbers. The website is www.guttenbergnj.org.
Residents may also add numbers by calling the Department of Public Safety at (201) 868-3215 at ext. 113.
Each month, the township will spend $15 to update their Verizon database with new numbers. Caliguiro said contracts with Verizon and Global Connect each cost $2,500 for this year and were paid through municipal funds. Global Connect, located in Mays Landing, N.J., will cost the town $2,500 each year to renew the system.
With the new system, Guttenberg’s Department of Safety can create a voice message about a school closing or emergency, and it will reach all registered phone numbers within two hours. The system will call each resident four times, and if they do not answer the phone, it will call a fifth time and leave a message.
Guttenberg did a test run of the system for Safe Kids Day, an annual safety festival that ran Sept. 20. Caliguiro said that residents received a message by Sgt. Victor Conversano reminding them about the day. The city knew the system was working because the Police Department began receiving calls from residents about it.
“Once we pressed that button [to launch the system], we started getting calls like crazy,” said Conversano. He said mostly, residents were perplexed about getting a message from the Police Department, but the test run proved that they system worked.
Evolution of emergency planning
Councilman Gerald Drasheff, who is on the council’s Police Committee, said emergency management has evolved since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One result was the phone system’s installation in Guttenberg and other towns.
“Something that we all learned over the years is that if you go back to most town’s emergency plans five years ago, when it came to the point of notifying the public, the stock answer was, ‘We take the patrol car and go around with a microphone,’ ” said Drasheff. “What we all learned is that in the event of a major disaster, a hurricane or some type of chemical attack, you need many different ways to get [in touch] with everyone in town.”
Drasheff said that today, towns need “multiple redundant ways of connecting to people” since families now rely on their cell phones or e-mail and speak multiple languages. He said that even if residents are not currently on the system, a friend or relative will be more likely to get the information to them now.
Can be fine-tuned
Caligurio said that besides notifying residents in the event of a man-made or natural disaster, the system can inform them of snow emergencies, power outages, and school closings.
The messages can also be targeted at specific areas of town. Drasheff brought up the example of a fire two years ago in the Galaxy’s third tower. He said that the fire resulted in a fatality on the 10th floor, but that it was put under control very quickly by North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue. However, residents on the 40th floor didn’t know whether they should evacuate or stay in their apartments.
Caliguiro said that emergencies in high-rises are touchy situations, since residents can be asked to evacuate or to stay inside. The phone system can send a message to just one apartment, one street, or one high-rise tower.
“The last thing you want is everyone coming down into a smoke filled stairway,” said Drasheff “After 9/11, people tend to self-evacuate.”
Caliguiro said that another example would be alerting residents if a gas line was punctured or if the Hudson River might flood Guttenberg along the waterfront. The message would give instructions about evacuating or staying inside.
“If we had a major fire tonight, or God forbid we had a toxic waste spill, and you want people to stay in their homes, for anybody that’s in the database, we could get that out,” said Drasheff.
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