Carbon County officials are working hard to make sure residents are safe following Superstorm Sandy, which moved through the TIMES NEWS coverage area earlier this week.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board welcomed Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County emergency management agency coordinator, who provided a detailed update on what was done and what is still being done to help residents affected by the storm.
Nalesnik, who leads the county's efforts in coordinating help in emergency situations, explained that the Emergency Operating Center, located at the Emergency Management Agency in Nesquehoning, was staffed by volunteers since the beginning of the storm. This crew has monitored, watched and checked in with each municipality to see what kind of support was needed. Members of the National Guard have also been stationed at the EOC in case assistance was needed.
He pointed out that there were several issues that arose in some areas with critical care facilities or infrastructure.
In Bowmanstown, the water department's water supply for the town was critically low due to the lack of power. Nalesnik said a request was made to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for a generator that could power the water department so residents wouldn't lose water. The request was later canceled after Bowmanstown was prioritized as an area PPL should focus on and power was restored.
Nalesnik also cited another problem that arose Wednesday when the medical helicopter, which is stored at Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton, was stranded because the hangar door couldn't open due to no power.
It was learned that an area fire department had a large enough generator to power the hangar door so a request was made and the department graciously brought the equipment to the airport, hooked it up to power the hangar door and got the helicopter out.
Nalesnik commended the fire department, as well as every volunteer fire department and emergency organization for their assistance during the emergency.
"Fire departments step up every time there is an issue in the county," he said. "They open up their doors, offer their buildings as shelters."
Several area buildings, which included ambulance garages and fire departments, were utilized as shelters and warming stations.
Nalesnik noted that many people used them during and after the storm.
The biggest problem the county faced during the storm was power outages, with almost 17,000 homes being left in the dark, some still to this day.
As of 8 a.m. on Friday, of the nearly 17,000 that had been without power, PPL has restored 15,024 homes and businesses and crews are continuing to work to restore power to every home.
Nalesnik commended PPL crews for their hard work during the restoration period.
"We have a good working relationship with PPL," he said, adding that PEMA has also been great to work with through the storm.
One of the biggest assets the county used during the storm to get information to residents was social media sites, such as Facebook.
Nalesnik said that since the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency began using Facebook, he has been getting a lot of good feedback from area residents.
"It's another way to get emergency information out and the residents are grateful for that," he said, noting that even though the power was out, many residents were able to receive updates through Facebook using their cell phones.
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said that Superstorm Sandy showed the area that the threat of disaster is there and that everyone should prepare now for future events.
He then asked if Carbon County will be included in a federal disaster declaration.
Nalesnik said it is too early to know right now, adding that before a final determination can be made, the local emergency management coordinators must complete their damage assessments of their municipality and report their findings to him. The information will then be passed on to the state and so on.
Nothstein stressed the importance of residents reporting any damage to their municipality so that an accurate account of damage can be assessed and reported.
"The public has a responsibility to report damages to their homes," he said. "Most people are not reporting it so their local emergency management coordinator or to the county. Without those numbers, it is hard to get included in a federal disaster declaration."
If Carbon County is included in the federal disaster declaration, municipalities would be eligible to receive recovery and reimbursement monies that will be made available.
The board commended Nalesnik, the EOC volunteers, 911 staff, emergency responders and everyone who helped during the storm for their hard work and dedication.
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard also urged municipalities to update their emergency mitigation plans and get them to Nalesnik.
If area residents want to learn how to be more prepared in their communities, Nalesnik said they can take the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course.
The course to become CERT involves participating in three classes. Currently, the next course is scheduled for April, but Nalesnik said that if residents want to join CERT, they should call the Emergency Management Agency at (570) 325-3097 and if the need is there, he will schedule a course immediately.
Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, who was at the meeting for a presentation, added that PMVB has a list on its website of all hotels that have available rooms for residents and visitors who are still without power.
"We are showing all accommodations that are available with the phone numbers so residents and visitors can find a warm shower and a comfortable facility," he said.
To find a location in the Poconos that has availability, go to www.800poconos.com . On the top of the webpage, visitors will find a Storm Sandy Update with a link "open for business." It will open up a PDF file of all hotels that currently have rooms available.
In a related matter, the commissioners also adopted a declaration of disaster emergency for the county.