While communications have evolved profusely during the past three decades with the convergence of computing, telecommunications and handheld gadgets, Hurricane Sandy has shown the shortcomings of staying connected during emergencies.
Toms River residents criticized officials Tuesday evening about an inability to stay informed during Hurricane Sandy and the following days during extensive power outages and large scale evacuations.
"With a storm of this magnitude, the township did its best," Township Council Vice President George Wittman said after Tuesday's Township Council meeting. "But when you try to rely on home phones and the Internet during power outages, it doesn't do much good."
The Township has a "Reverse 9-1-1" system that dials residents for emergencies, but it served little use to residents who had been evacuated or for those whose phones depend upon electricity. Some residents from the Ortley Beach section of the township said they had to say they were from Seaside Heights to use the program.
"We will have to redo the Reverse 9-1-1 system," Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said at Tuesday night's council meeting.
Wittman said the township needs to examine a system that uses text messages and e-mail to reach the public, as well as regular phone lines. He did not want to specify one technology over another, but he noted that neighboring towns have systems that reach 40,000 people within a minute.
Under the Reverse 911 system, an operator can identify the affected neighborhood or region of the county and record a message that describes the situation and recommends the protective actions residents should take.
The Reverse 911 system will automatically call out to all listed telephone numbers within that geographic area and deliver the recorded message. The system will attempt to redial those numbers that are busy or leave messages on answering machines for people who are not available.
Wittman said, even with the availability of other systems, cell service was also impaired during the height of the storm.