It’s hard to be prepared for a storm of the magnitude we’ve just experienced; even the meteorologists fell short in their predictions, and, as a result, many found themselves woefully unequipped to handle the ramifications of the storm, with medications needing refill, basic groceries running out and urgent matters to attend to with no way of getting there.
At LCSW headquarters, though, preparations began on Thursday evening as volunteers mobilized and the organization moved into emergency mode, silently serving as the backbone of the town for the duration of this disastrous storm.
Hours and hours of advance planning and strategizing set the stage for LCSW’s storm operations. On Thursday evening, LCSW held a briefing for their members, outlining roles, mobilizing members, equipment and resources, and reviewing protocols and procedures for any and every scenario,many of which did play themselves out during the storm. They ensured that members were equipped with appropriate gear, 4×4 vehicles and equipment to help them be as efficient and effective as possible at all times.
On Friday morning, LCSW participated in a vital interagency meeting, where every emergency and volunteer agency in town sat down together to coordinate efforts and ensure that the emergency response would run as seamlessly as possible, without needless overlap and waste of vital resources. Every agency announced what resources they had available and how they plan on operating. Each organization and the members within accepted their roles and obligations.
Before Shabbos began, LCSW went into Shabbos Emergency Mode, with 3 24-hour non-Jewish Shabbos dispatchers and 16 additional Shabbos members available for deployment. Six of these members actually camped out in LCSW headquarters from the onset of Shabbos until Motzei Shabbos in anticipation of any need that may arise. As the storm hit earlier than expected, the needs arose, and they arose fast. Those members were activated immediately and remained in full operation until they were relieved by fresh members on Motzei Shabbos.
“One of LCSW’s most priceless resources, unique to our organization, is our amazing and dedicated Shabbos team with close to 20 highly trained members who are so incredibly devoted to the town and to the cause,” says a LCSW coordinator. “They have their own chain of command and infrastructure and operate both independently and enmeshed beautifully with the rest of the organization. I don’t think Lakewood realizes what a huge asset the Shabbos Patrol team was to our community during the storm, especially considering that we bore the brunt of it exclusively over Shabbos. This was the fruit of many years’ training, and other agencies overwhelmed by the staggering amount of calls called upon the members to assist in their emergency response.”
Shabbos operations were of course conducted under Rabbinical guidance,every step of the way.
As the Shabbos members left for their well deserved rest, the new crew of members arriving moments after Shabbos ended left their families behind, many of them straight until Sunday night as they sacrificed time, money and energy for as much as thirty hours straight responding to hundreds of life-threatening and non-life-threatening but urgent calls.
Members assisted in freeing emergency vehicles stuck in the snow, transporting doctors , nurses and home health aids, transporting elderly, handicapped and emergency medical patients to the hospital, conducting welfare checks, coordinating pedestrian safety and digging out cars that were stuck and obstructing the roads, responding to calls sent their way from other organizations that were tied up, and more.
“Just responding to anxious women calling in all Friday afternoon, scared they would go into labor over Shabbos was practically a full operation,” says an LCSW coordinator. “Giving them proper reassurance so they could go into Shabbos with menuchas hanefesh was a valuable part of our job as well.”
LCSW arranged for a team of their own volunteer dispatchers to take on the phone lines at the clearly overwhelmed and crippled Department of Public Works, opening up communication with the residents of Lakewood so that callers could get information they needed and begin the process of getting on with their lives.
“They were manning four work stations, and were there from 12 noon to 12 midnight on Sunday,” says a coordinator. “While the Department of Public Works has nothing to do with LCSW, and their operations and their results, or lack thereof, are not necessarily our concern, our concern is our mission – to help! and to that end we were happy to deploy our own resources to assist where it was most needed. Our tireless volunteers were there for hours upon hours without rest, even as they had other places to be.”
LCSW members prepared a rejuvination center for volunteers and first responders from all organizations and agencies, in case the need would arise, where they could come in to restock, recharge and warm up before heading out again on the treacherous streets to do their vital work.
LCSW trained communication operators dispatched from the OEM emergency operation center from 7 am Shabbos morning until Sunday morning,when the EOC was terminated by OEM, working together with all of the agencies represented there to streamline services in a timely and efficient manner to ensure that services weren’t duplicated, causing valuable resources to be wasted.
Ultimately, the sacrifices made by members were significant. Both the organization on a whole and members individually incurred thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to their vehicles, exerted the max to assist on the treacherous roads. Hundreds and hundreds of collective hours were spent dedicated to the klal, running from call to call, need to desperate need, with nary a moment to rest. Family members and spouses sacrificed tremendously as well, graciously allowing a valuable household member to disappear for hours on end, at times for more than a day straight.
Dismal plowing job notwithstanding, Lakewood’s emergency response for the duration of the storm was outstanding, and LCSW’s operations well exceeded expectations for any agency at such a time of crisis.
“LCSW helped us out in so many ways; they were out there with everything they had and worked hand in hand with other agencies to keep this town going,” says Committeeman Mike Delia, who has many years of OEM experience. “They have been a vital and integral part of the coordinated response team and their efficiency is impressive.”
Indeed, as a volunteer organization, where members give up of their time and efforts out of the goodness of their hearts, LCSW’s intense level of involvement, and the lifesaving results achieved, is mind boggling.
“As we loudly thank our devoted members, the public should as well,” says an LCSW coordinator. “Just this one storm alone cost our organization and our members individually, along with other organizations, quite a steep price financially. Our members also exhausted themselves without personal regard, for the sake of the community we live in, providing the best services possible under blizzard conditions. While the public is frustrated and dissatisfied, rightfully so, with the way our town was plowed, or not plowed, our volunteers did whatever they possibly could to alleviate the strain and to keep Lakewood and its residents safe during so challenging a time.”
As Lakewood begins to unearth itself from beneath the blankets of snow, LCSW continues to work overtime managing the aftermath of the storm, constantly seeking to surpass their own results and do even better next time around.