Hoboken was the center of local and national media attention roughly a year ago as it prepared for Hurricane Irene, a major storm that flooded many of the city’s streets and ground level apartments.
Reports about the fearsome power of the storm caused Mayor Dawn Zimmer to order the mandatory evacuation of residents living in ground-level apartments. Other residents were encouraged to vacate on their own initiative. Zimmer and other city officials, along with student volunteers from Stevens Institute of Technology, went door to door to warn ground-level residents about the upcoming onslaught.
When the storm hit on Aug. 28, city officials brought approximately 60 evacuees to the Izod Center in East Rutherford, where a large shelter was managed by the state. Along with the city’s Police Department and other city workers and volunteers, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) – a group of local volunteers trained after Sept. 11, 2001 – assisted residents within the shelter.
Now that hurricane season is underway, the city has since undertaken various initiatives intended to lessen the impact of flooding in town, hoping to be prepared in the event of another major storm.
Last year, the city installed 25 new flood monitoring sensors on contract with the company EmNet to help detect flooding events and gather data in real time. The data will be used to determine if the city needs more pumps to remove water during a storm.
The North Hudson Sewerage Authority is scheduled to provide over $100,000 in funds for the installation of more sensors throughout the city.
City spokesperson Juan Melli said last week that although the city initially planned for the installation of four pumps throughout the city, the sensors have already determined that two of these will not be necessary.
“To a certain extent I almost think we got lucky.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
“Pumps are very expensive,” said Zimmer in an interview last week, “and we want to use the data from the sensors to determine if there are other cost effective solutions that can be done that would be more sustainable in the long term.”
Officials are also unsure if using the pumps to divert water into the Hudson River will be permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Hoboken has long suffered from being a low-lying area with a combined sewer system that carries rain water and sewerage at the same time. Flooding has particularly been a major issue in the southwest part of the city, where Zimmer lives.
Green initiatives underway
Other initiatives to deal with future emergencies include buying inflatable rescue boats to place atop fire trucks, a generator that can be used in the event of a power loss, and an “emergency preparedness trailer.”
“[The trailer] is something the CERT team will be using to go out and help [evacuees],” said Zimmer. “It just takes the load off the Police Department.”
City officials also want to establish design standards for “green roofs,” which helps reduce storm water run-off through the installation of vegetation over a rooftop irrigation system.
“We don’t have clear standards,” said Zimmer. “Right now it’s kind of a challenge legislatively to have [the gardens] approved.”
Zimmer said those building owners who install a green roof could, down the line, be entitled to some economic reimbursement.
The city’s Shade Tree Commission is also working on designing tree pits to support the growth of trees, which help hold water before it enters the sewer system. This helps to thin out the amount of intake the system has to endure at a time.
The city recently applied for a $20,000 Sustainable NJ grant to install curb extensions. Many of these extensions will also feature “rain gardens,” which help to reduce the amount of rainwater by both drying up water and postponing its release into the sewers.
Reflections toward future threats
Zimmer stressed that the city communication system will be instrumental in tackling a future storm. In fact, a call center has been established for the CERT team in order to allow the Police Department to exclusively handle emergency calls.
“It takes the load off the Police Department,” said Zimmer.
Prior to the hurricane, a system was established that can send enrolled residents automated messages. The messages alerted people of emergencies such as the need to vacate.
“We do think we did a really good job with the communications,” said Zimmer. “To a certain extent I almost think we got lucky.”
Reluctant at the Housing Authority
Zimmer said that during Irene, many people were reluctant to leave the city.
“One thing we learned [is that some] people are scared to evacuate,” said Zimmer. “Specifically in the Housing Authority [public housing buildings], it was difficult to encourage people to evacuate.”
Zimmer said they are looking to involve more Housing Authority residents with the CERT team. She said that the city is looking to install emergency lights within the Housing Authority buildings and that flashlights will be given out to residents.
Officials said that another problem they ran into during Irene was broadcasting over Hoboken Channel 78 – which can alert and inform residents – in a timely manner. The old system required a DVD to be created and walked over to the High School, where it was broadcast to residents’ televisions.
“The process was so cumbersome it prevented us from getting a message out on Channel 78 at any time,” said Melli.
The system has since been digitized.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.