Sandy-Induced Fuel Shortage Posed Biggest Problem for Borough
Fair Lawn will review its contingency plans for fuel backup after the fragility of its current setup was exposed during Superstorm Sandy.
Superstorm Sandy played out just as borough manager Tom Metzler told his staff it would.
He anticipated the devastation to the Jersey Shore, the flooding of the New York City subway system and the prolonged power outages across the region.
“Prepare to be without power for two weeks,” he told his staff a couple days before the storm came to shore.
Metzler said he knew exactly what to expect because he’d been studying Sandy, or a storm just like her, for over two decades.
“In 1990 when I entered emergency management, the very first conference I attended they said this was the worst East Coast scenario,” Metzler said. “A Category 1 hurricane coming to shore between Cape May and Atlantic City with a 20 mile-an-hour forward motion.”
He laid it out for his staff to plan accordingly and was extremely pleased with their response.
“I don’t think there’s a whole heck of a lot we could have done differently,” Metzler opined earlier this month.
There was, however, one aspect of the borough’s emergency preparedness model that Sandy revealed could use some tinkering.
“The biggest issue that we had to overcome through the bulk of this was fuel for our own trucks,” said Metzler, who worked out arrangements with local gas station owners to allow borough employees and emergency vehicles to jump the exceedingly long gas lines. “We were critical low on two separate occasions.”
Metzler said he wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of fuel required to power borough vehicles, fire trucks, pump stations and generators around the clock in the two weeks following the emergency accounted for a 60 percent uptick in the borough’s overall fuel consumption.
While Fair Lawn had made arrangements with backup fuel vendors prior to the storm, those vendors were in the same boat as everyone else.
“They didn’t have power either,” Metzler said. “They couldn’t get the fuel out of the ground.”
At one point, the borough’s fuel supply dwindled to just 200 gallons of regular fuel and 690 gallons of diesel, Metzler said.
To get an understanding just how low that is, consider it takes 50-to-75 gallons of diesel to fill a single DPW truck and about 400 gallons of diesel every three days to fuel the emergency generator that powered the municipal building and the police department for more than a week.
Fortunately, the borough was able to procure fuel shipments from the National Guard and the county, and pump out 500 gallons of diesel trapped underneath a commercial gas station in Wyckoff.
“That’s the way emergency management works,” Metzler said. “When you can’t resolve the problem on your own, you go to the next level. If they can’t resolve it, then they go to the state.”
In the future, Metzler – who called the fuel shortage a “tremendous issue” -- said the borough would have to create additional fuel contingencies.
“If we know that fuel is going to be a problem, we need to make sure that we have an alternate plan on how we’re going to address refueling our vehicles,” he said.
In addition to fuel contingencies, Metzler said the borough may also need to rethink the role of its Community Emergency Response Team, which is composed of trained residents who are counted on to volunteer during emergency situations.
"There’s a CERT team of 40 people that we have come to depend on and we probably got a workforce of about 10 of them out of that 40, and that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s an area we’ve got to address. We either have to explain to them the importance of being available during a disaster or we’re going to have to pull from another source."
Metzler said the low turnout by CERT members -- many declined to volunteer after suffering damage to their own homes -- takes nothing away from those members who did help, and in some cases worked as many or more hours than paid borough personnel.