Amid a rising tide of rivers and back bay waters, with a crush of downed wires and trees, it was the failure of Toms River Township's generators that officials said became the biggest eye-opener post Hurricane Irene.
Township Administrator Paul Shives said the hours following the August 2011 storm were spent without power at police headquarters and town hall, as much of Toms River was also without power.
Addressing the aging back-up generators became a priority project after the hurricane, he said. $2.4 million was earmarked for generator upgrades in the year after Irene.
"The biggest thing that hit us, was we did complete analysis of our emergency generators," Shives said.
The top lesson of Hurricane Irene was that the emergency generators needed upgrades, he said.
"That event more than any other showed us we needed to upgrade and expand our emergency generators," Shives said.
The equipment was old, and the storm showed it needed to be replaced, he said. New generators were pegged for police headquarters on Oak Avenue, town hall on Washington Street and public works on Church Road.
"It was clear when power went out, the generators were old," Shives said. "For an event like that, it was clear they needed to be replaced."
In Toms River the day after Irene, more than 15,000 were powerless on Sunday. Police headquarters on Oak Avenue was without power, operating on back-up systems a portion of Sunday. At 8 a.m. Monday however, JCP&L reported 17,539 are without power. Four days later, 2,500 were still without power.
"We had very limited computer access," Shives said.
Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said at the time that being without power at police headquarters was a learning experience.
“We quickly realized what wasn’t part of the back-up system, what we’d have to do without its computers, instead tracking down the circuit it was on,” he said at the time. “It was a good drill, in a way.”
Despite being without a full complement of power, the Monday after Irene township offices remained open through regular hours of 4:30 p.m. Shives said town hall was working on back-up generators and remained open for a full business day on Monday. Shives said there were no service interruptions to township services except for the partial closure of Winding River Park due to flooding.
Bey Lea municipal golf course was also open but without power, Shives said, which means the electronic tee-time reservation system was down until power was restored.
A year ago, Shives said he was surprised Ortley Beach opened the Monday after the storm. He credited township staff with the effort.
"The employees need to be commended," Shives said last year. "They've stepped up and we even managed to open Ortley Beach today. I didn't think we'd see that happen."
Shives said that while there were issues with tree clearing, downed wires, and flooding of a township park, the infrasture remained strong.
"We did not have the infrastructure damage that the county had," Shives said. "They had bridges out that continue to be repaired."
With the coordination of the township's Office of Emergency Management, and Paul Daley, the preparations for Irene were made in advance, to set up the potential for evacuations. Three Toms River schools were converted to shelters for points during the storm.
"A lot of our time and effort was spent evacuating some folks and operating shelters," Shives said.
The other changes, post-Irene, came in attempts to better reach barrier island residents with emergency information promptly, Shives said.
"While we still had power, we heard from residents who would like some better communication," said the township administrator. "As a result we upgraded our website, upgraded our capabitilities to reach folks on barrier island now."
Emergency messages can now be broadcast on Comcast, Cablevision and Verizon, which became a priority as agreements came up for renewal in the last year, he said. Previously, the cable providers used on the barrier island were not accessing local public access channels in Toms River mainland.
The other issues that the township changed in the wake of Irene was how to better close streets, particularly on the barrier island, so drivers don't attempt to pass flooded roadways.
"The flooding occurred on barrier island closed it off for a bit of time, and our police traffic safety officers are using new systems to cordone off those areas, so folks try to drive down those streets," Shives said.
As it does every year, the township assessed its bulkheads to see which ones remained problematic after Irene. Toms River has an annual project list for bulkheads, Shives said.
"We did see intermittent bulkhead failures during the storm," he said. "We run a bulkhead projects list, dialed those areas in, we’ll finish up that project this fall."
Looking back, Shives said Toms River escaped damage seen elsewhere.
"We did not have major road washout damage or bridge damage," he said. "We were fortunate in that respect."