By Joseph Yogerst, Research & Writing Specialist, New Jersey JFO
It’s not uncommon for people to wear more than one hat after a major disaster. But after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, Randy Bishop found himself in the unique position of working alongside FEMA personnel as well as providing them lodging.
As the mayor of Neptune Township, Bishop has worked closely with FEMA since Sandy came ashore in late October to manage the coastal community’s response and recovery from the superstorm. As a local resident and business owner, he has applied for federal disaster assistance. And as the owner of a bed & breakfast inn called The Melrose, he has a number of FEMA staff among his paying customers.
“Once we got our power back, I called into my government representative and said we have lodging available for disaster relief workers,” said Bishop. The message eventually worked its way to FEMA employees relocating to the newly opened JFO in Lincroft, who called to reserve rooms at The Melrose.
“The situation is quite unique,” said Bishop. “I’ve had a lot of federal workers stay on vacation but never while they’re working. They’re a wonderful group of people. It’s given me a chance to see FEMA from a different perspective – how they work and what they are faced with.”
Bishop has worked side-by-side with FEMA to bring his township back from disaster. One of his first steps was creating a mobile response unit in one of the hardest hit communities that included wireless hotspots and seven laptops where citizens could register immediately for FEMA disaster assistance.
FEMA’s Public Assistance programs are also at the top of the mayor’s post-hurricane agenda, in particular debris removal. “In just two weeks of clean-up,” said Bishop, “we are already at the amount of debris that we typically reach in an entire year.”
Bishop feels that Neptune Township has been able to rebound quicker than many other communities along the Jersey Shore because they already had an emergency management plan in place before Sandy hit.
“Because of our exposure on both the coast and a river, we decided that our emergency plan should specifically address hurricanes,” Bishop explained. “Having that plan allowed us to begin the process of recovery and rebuilding immediately – much faster than our neighbors.”
Neptune’s Recovery Action Committee is already working on revising the plan, making the process even quicker and smoother for future calamities. “FEMA has been very helpful in talking to us about what other communities have done, what the possible pitfalls might be and how we can get around those.
“The good news is that we believe that our emergency management plan has worked well. The better news is that we are documenting what we learned from this disaster to improve the plan if we should ever need to use it again.”