Where Are Brick’s Shelters In Case Of Emergency?

Large buildings like this could be used as temporary shelters during emergencies. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – What would happen if a hurricane like Florence, which was a recent Category 4 hurricane that caused severe and extensive damage in the Carolinas – were to strike Brick? Are there enough emergency shelters for those who would need to evacuate? How are the shelters chosen? Are there cots and emergency stores of food already in place?

Police Chief James Riccio, who also heads the Brick Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and Joseph Pawlowicz, Deputy Coordinator of OEM, addressed these questions during a recent interview at police headquarters.

“If there were a Florence-type hurricane, a Category 4, the whole township would have a mandatory evacuation because we are along the ocean,” said Riccio.

If needed, all 12 schools could be used as temporary evacuation centers, and so could the six township firehouses, Civic Center, shopping centers or nursing homes. In fact, the police chief could take over any building to use as an evacuation center if necessary, Pawlowicz said.

During the March 2018 fire at the Brick Housing Authority’s George Conway building, 125 residents were evacuated. Forty-one had no place to go, so they were evacuated to the PAL building on Drum Point Road, where there is a generator.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

The Knights of Columbus and the Veterans of Foreign Wars supplied food for the isolated event, Riccio said.

Each of the township schools could house about 500 evacuees, but only two of them have generators, Riccio said.

“Every town has applied for (Federal Emergency Management Agency) mitigation funds to pay for generators for emergency shelters – it’s an ongoing issue,” Riccio said. “Certain gas stations and drug stores received the funds, but we didn’t get it for the rest of the schools.”

If there were a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, schools might not even be utilized because the windows might not hold, Riccio said. “It’s a fluid situation, there’s a lot of factors,” he added.

With a hurricane of that magnitude, the township would coordinate with the county and state, Pawlowicz said.

During Superstorm Sandy, residents from as far away as Atlantic City were directed to evacuate to the RWJBarnabas Arena in Toms River.

Some Brick residents evacuated to Veterans Elementary School before relocating to the arena, which was set up by the state. Eventually, most of the people went to go live with family members, Riccio said.

Once an evacuation center has been named, OEM contacts the Red Cross who bring in cots and staff, and the Salvation Army supplies food, Pawlowicz said.

Brick has a population of about 75,000 and about 125,000 in the summer. About 72 hours before Sandy made landfall, the police suggested that people leave their homes on the barrier island and flood zones in town.

The governor or the police chief could declare a mandatory evacuation, which means the emergency workers might not be able to help.

“If you don’t heed our warning, you’re on your own,” Riccio said. “We knew of 27 people who stayed on the island, and we told them we probably couldn’t come.”

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

Many of those residents called for assistance during the height of the storm, and the police tried to help but the bridge was out, he said. “We got to them the next day,” Riccio said.

During Sandy, about 24 people stayed at Veterans Elementary School until family came. Shelters are not set up to accommodate people for long periods of time, Riccio said.

The township has a Community Animal Response Team (a spinoff of the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT) who will temporarily house animals in support shelters if needed.

During the George Conway evacuation, pets were able to stay with their owners.

“We do our best to accommodate people. Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t,” Riccio said. “If an animal is out of control or someone has asthma, we might set up a separate area,” he said. “It’s fluid.”

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Judy moved to Ocean County from New York City in 1988, and began her second career as a feature and news reporter in the mid-1990's. She has worked for Micromedia Publications since 2008, primarily reporting for The Toms River Times and The Brick Times. Judy has also worked for The Leader Review in Point Pleasant Beach, The Brick Communicator and The Asbury Park Press. Reach Judy by e-mail at Judysmestadnunn@gmail.com.