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Feature: Shaun Golden
03/12/2013 - By Paul Williams
McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden puts “Sandy” into perspective
The Art of Choreographing Our Safety
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden has built a lifetime of memories living in and serving Monmouth County. The lifelong county resident attended St. John Vianney High School while living in Colts Neck. Shortly after graduation, he became a paramedic. After working his way up the law enforcement ladder, Golden was elected county sheriff in November of 2010, combining two of his greatest passions: public service and Monmouth County.
In Golden’s tenure, Monmouth County has endured a major blackout, a historic blizzard, Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Golden has been at the forefront in effectively leading the county through each crisis, and preventing even worse consequences for county residents.
In October, Sandy heavily impacted Monmouth County as it devastated shorefronts, damaged thousands of homes and businesses and left some municipalities in the dark for two weeks or more — yet there was one thing Sandy did not do. It did not claim the life of any county resident. Golden credits his Office of Emergency Management team and their preemptive measures for avoiding any fatalities from Sandy.
As he explained to Living in Colts Neck and Western Monmouth, Golden believes adversity only makes him more enthusiastic about his job and molds him into a better leader.
LIM: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
SG: I grew up here in Monmouth County. We lived in Matawan, and prior to high school we moved to Colts Neck. I first worked in security at Delicious Orchards under Bill McDonald, Tom Gesualdo, and Frank McMahon, who were great. I was also a volunteer fireman in Colts Neck for over 15 years and a volunteer first aid member. I started when I was a teenager, and that’s what got me interested in public safety. I graduated St. John Vianney in 1985 and became a medic in 1987. From there I went through paramedic school and worked for MONOC and at Jersey Shore Medical Center. I got my Associate’s degree from Brookdale and then started taking police examinations. I went to Monmouth County Police Academy and I started working at Colts Neck police department, which was a great town to work for. But I wanted to broaden my career and to do that, I had to move on. I applied to larger departments and ended up in Toms River. While I was there, I went back to Monmouth College, it was called at the time, and got my degree in political science. I went for my Masters in education administration at Seton Hall. Then I earned my certified public manager’s certificate through Fairleigh Dickinson.
LIM: What led you to run for Sheriff?
SG: I knew it was going to be a challenge to run an agency this size. But I welcomed it and was excited based on my background of being a county resident, seeing this county grow, and combined with my education and experience in the political and criminal justice fields. Those things really drove me to say I was ready for this job. I had an overwhelming victory in the election and I really thank the people for that.
LIM: Of course at the time you didn’t know you would have to endure unprecedented natural disasters.
SG: It’s true, we’ve had a lot of challenges since I’ve been here at the sheriff’s office and since I’ve been sheriff. We had a blackout, which took out more than half the county right in the middle of summertime. We had a major blizzard, and then we had the water emergency, where half the county was out of water, and then we had Irene, and then Superstorm Sandy. I love a challenge and my brothers will say we all love challenges and adversity because that just makes us more energetic and more enthusiastic about what we do.
LIM: How prepared was Monmouth County to deal with Sandy?
SG: We’ve gone through a process and a transformation in the sheriff’s office, particularly with the Office of Emergency Management. The OEM team before the blackout wasn’t in the sheriff’s office. Emergency Management stood by itself, but it only had four full-time people. So can you imagine four full-time people trying to tackle something like the blackout? That was a good awakening in terms of what we needed to do, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders with Director Tom Arnone recognized that. They asked if I would be interested in helping them build up the Emergency Management team a little bit. I said, absolutely. Then we hired Mike Oppegaard. Mike is a certified emergency management planner, one of only 18 in the state. We’re lucky to have him here. The Freeholders were good enough to put him in as the OEM coordinator at my recommendation, and he hasn’t let us down. I knew him back when he was a dispatch supervisor in Wall and he worked his way up. I grew into the field, and I’ve seen Mike grow in the field, and he’s so passionate about his job.
LIM: So was the OEM office relocated for Sandy?
SG: We have a small Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that’s in an old warehouse on Halls Mills Road. We’re slated to move into a brand new complex at the end of the year. We’re moving the Sheriff’s Office of Communications, and my Emergency Management team. We’ll all be in one building behind the police academy, which is great for me because I’ll have most everybody under one roof, except for the jail, which is a large separate facility. We could have used it during the storm. We didn’t have a lot of space at Mike’s EOC. That’s a place where all the disciplines gather. All the fire marshals were there, the EMS task force, the Department of Health, NJNG, JCP&L, all the players were in there and everyone made decisions there during the storm.
LIM: How was it working during the storm with space constraints?
SG: I’ll never forget that day. I remember looking at the European model before the storm. You had all the spaghetti models, and the European model had that abrupt 90 degree left turn. I said, “Mike, there’s no way that could be right. But what if it is?” We were always steps ahead. As soon as Mike heard “hurricane in the Atlantic,” his team was breaking out flood maps. I spent my first four days and three nights in the EOC. When people say we’ve heard a lot of good things in Monmouth County, I think it’s in large part because of Mike and his plan. On the night of the storm we had zero deaths attributed directly to the storm, and other counties weren’t as fortunate. That’s a testament to Mike and to all the public safety agencies we interact with every day. As the governor was finishing his press conference and talking about evacuations, Mike was already prepping points of distribution: Holy Family in Union Beach and the racetrack in Monmouth Park. We had three major ones and then smaller ones. The towns would come pick up ice, water, meals ready to eat, blankets, and then bring them in and pass them around, so it was a very efficient system. The day before the storm, the Freeholders declared a state of emergency. At that point, Mike was ordering cots and he was doing that even days before the storm. My staff is so in tune to these types of scenarios — granted we learned a lot from Irene — but we were two to three days ahead of the game. I remember on the night of the storm, hours before the storm touched down, Mike was ordering supplies so we would have them for the day after the storm. We didn’t wait for FEMA. We made great partnerships with ShopRite, and they sent trucks of water the day after the storm to the distribution points. We would be on the conference calls with Governor Christie from the state police Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC). That’s where the governor is during the time of crisis. He would have conference calls with all 21 counties and all the Emergency Management teams and we would have our conference call afterwards, and pass down the messages to the municipal coordinators. That’s how that works. If the municipalities requested gas, generators, and so on, they would relay it to Mike and then he would relay to the state police. Whatever they needed, that’s the line of communication and chain of command we used. Ultimately the governor, who did a tremendous job during the storm, is the head. He got us a lot of the resources we requested.
LIM: How did you decide on the evacuation shelters?
SG: We had those pre-planned. We used three high schools during Irene, and found that to be somewhat of a challenge, so we changed the locations to Monmouth University and Brisbane, down in Wall. We didn’t house pets at the three high schools during Irene and it became a problem so we wanted to make sure we had a facility that could house them. That’s the primary reason we opened Brisbane. And Monmouth University was a tremendous partner. We had over 1,000 evacuees there. I would grab coffee every morning with President Gaffney and check on my staff. We had all the professionals, such as the National Guard, use the luxury boxes like an office. MONOC, which supplied all the EMS for our shelters, also had a suite. Then we used the big meeting rooms for two briefings every day. So logistically and operationally that new MAC Center at Monmouth worked out to be fantastic. When we do a review of that plan, I don’t think we would really change anything.
LIM: Did you coordinate moving the evacuees to the shelters?
SG: Yes. We controlled all the buses coming in. Each town had a reception center where they would pre- register everybody. Then we ran our senior citizen bus around the county pre-storm, picked them up and also brought them to the shelters.
LIM: It sounds like your department had some tremendous foresight and took a lot of preemptive actions.
SG: Yes, and again some of it is attributed to Irene. We had almost 6,000 in the shelters in Irene and much less a year later for Superstorm Sandy. I think I did 52 interviews prior to the storm preaching preparation, not panic. We got out there and said people need to be prepared with three to five days of food supply and medications and they need to be prepared for seven to 10 days without power, and we weren’t kidding. It was eerily quiet before the storm. People were heeding the warnings and a lot of people were in the shelters already. Then the night of the storm we had 7,800 ,911 calls in less than a 24- hour period. One thousand of them were water rescues. We have a highly-trained aquatic team in the sheriff’s office. A member of the dive teams went to Belmar and Union Beach that night. And it wasn’t just that people didn’t evacuate. Some of the people said during Irene and the Nor’easter in 1992 that the water didn’t come up to their house. We know there’re going to be new flood maps based on this storm.
LIM: When did you first go out and survey the damage?
SG: Undersheriff Bob Dawson and I rode with the public works director to survey some of the damage as the storm was winding down. We made it as far as Middletown and we had to turn around because it just wasn’t safe and the trees were still coming down. The most disheartening part was our flight time in the helicopter. I’ll never forget flying over iconic landmarks in the county that we all know. Having worked the streets as a medic and growing up in the county and visiting the shore towns one way or another, the sheer devastation was really sad to see. And I knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. The rescues were only one part of it.
LIM: What was the next step for you?
SG: We had a couple missing person’s reports. Through different outlets, some on Facebook, family members began saying we have him or her here, they are safe. We were using all those outlets to try and make sure that we had everybody. And we did. But then you get to dealing with the utter destruction of it all. We had set up a command post at Holy Family in Union Beach, which was North Com, and they coordinated with the northern end of the county. Then we had South Com at the Fire Academy set up for the southern end. We ran the emergency management from the EOC down to North and South Com and they ran their regions. They would report back to the EOC, who would make decisions about assets and give them back down. The governor forwarded us assets as we needed them, and he certainly sent us a huge contingent of state troopers, and that was fantastic. It was really amazing to see we had over 7,000 utility workers come in from all over the country. If I remember my conversation with JCP&L correctly, 48 states were represented here in Monmouth County. We had tent city for the utility workers at Monmouth Park and at Great Adventure. That’s where they lived for those couple of weeks until we had the power restored.
LIM: Did you have direct contact with JCP&L and the utility companies to keep track of their progress?
SG: All the disciplines had a representative in the EOC. We had New Jersey American Water, JCP&L, NJNG, Red Cross, Salvation Army, anything you can imagine that would be needed in an emergency, they have a representative in our EOC. We get the information that they have so we’re able to get some public information out.
LIM: How did you get the information out to people without power?
SG: That’s something where we worked with the locals. You have to have, you don’t want to say block captains, but you have to have block captains, people in your community that can reach out during the storm and knock on doors to get the word out. We were looking at AM radio stations. As odd as that sounds in this day and age, we were without power for such a long time. People couldn’t charge their phones, they couldn’t watch TV, and so you have to find other means by which to get word out, at least to large groups of people. You’re not going to get to everybody during that kind of emergency, but you want to reach the largest groups of people possible.
LIM: What measures did you take to protect county residents while power was out?
SG: The day after the storm we imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. We had to focus on getting control of some of those areas. You don’t want to be a police state, because people have been traumatized, and they may have lost their house, but by the same token, you don’t want people in an unsafe area. There were multiple gas leaks and fires going on. We had to protect the area. We enacted the curfew the day after the storm and we backed it up with large numbers of officers and the National Guard. We also had checkpoints in and out of those communities. It was very effective for us. When you look at our statistics of looting and theft, compared to other areas of the coast impacted by the storm, we did very well.
LIM: What was your role in coordinating the election?
SG: The Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno is the Secretary of State and she’s in charge of voting. I remember her texting me one morning, ‘The vote is going to happen with or without power. We need to talk.’ We were worried about getting generators to water treatment plants, sewer treatment plants, the points of distribution sites with food, and then into the mix came elections. We ordered some 200 plus generators and we ended up deploying about 70 generators in different sites that didn’t have power. Whatever it took. I think that was my text message back to [Guadagno] at the time, ‘Whatever it takes.’ I always say my staff and I, we make it happen. We wanted everybody to vote, that’s the American dream. It was a challenge on top of everything else that came at us. They also had voting right where our EOC was located. We had a divider down the hallway for the people who were in line to vote and the people who were in line to come into the emergency center and conduct business.
LIM: Did you order supplies through FEMA though the same chain of command you described before?
SG: Yes. We order through the ROIC. And I think it’s a lesson learned. Like we were telling the general public, you have to be self-sustaining for three days. We’re a bureaucracy right down to the local level, and navigating the bureaucracy takes two to three days. That’s why the private public partnerships we formed with some of the companies, like ShopRite and MONOC, just proved to be invaluable.
LIM: Are you still dealing with FEMA today?
SG: On a daily basis I get a FEMA report from OEM that tells us the latest: Who still doesn’t have a long-term house, who is in a flood zone. And so we’re dealing with that on a daily basis making sure our residents here in Monmouth County have some type of long-term housing.
LIM: How many residents are still displaced?
SG: We have 360 residents in Monmouth County that are still in need of some type of long-term housing. You look at some of the totals. We had upwards of 31,000 displaced people and 12,000 structures that have to be tended to. All of that comes at a price in terms of the human element. Businesses that are down, people that don’t have a house, and we’re doing our best to help them along and try to navigate them through the FEMA process.
LIM: How did you funnel donations to displaced residents?
SG: We had people calling us from all over the country to bring clothes, diapers, anything you can think of. I remember going live on the air and on all news channels and saying we’re accepting donations but we can’t have them dropped off at the points of distribution because that would disrupt flow. We had thousands of residents driving through those three points of distribution. But at the same time, we had to deal with donation management. So we established Thompson Park the day after the storm and we ran that for almost two weeks until the Red Cross, United Way, and some of the other faith-based church groups, who were outstanding, became established there. But in the meantime all that work was all done by park employees, some of them on their own volunteer time, and our volunteers as well in the sheriff’s office. That was quite an operation. Nobody really talks about that.
LIM: Were there any encounters you had during the days after the storm that stick out to you?
SG: I was out in the county every day. Late into day one after the storm, I was in Keansburg and was stopped by a group of ladies who were looking for water. I didn’t have any in my car. I had an officer bring some down, but then I instructed my staff, including myself and even any of my administrative staff, I said, ‘You will carry water and meals ready to eat in your car, so if you encounter somebody, you will have something to provide them.’ That was an instruction I remember vividly because of the encounter I had in Keansburg.
LIM: How did you manage your other responsibilities during the storm?
SG: In the sheriff’s office we have 638 employees, and emergency management is my smallest unit. We only have five full-time and two part-time people. The county and the court were closed for business the first week after the storm so we got to redeploy a lot of the law enforcement officers out to the street level to assist the towns and the distribution points. We had inmates fill 60,000 sand bags days before the storm. Still today, I directed the warden to use my inmate labor crew all winter and spring to help out and get to projects that public works can’t get to because they’re focused on the beachfront or waterfront. They’re going to help the park system too. There’s plenty of work to be done, and they’ll be pitching in.
LIM: What about the handling of the storm are you the most proud of or impressed by?
SG: It’s so tough to put one thing on it. Monmouth County didn’t lose any residents and I’m certainly proud of that. Residents need to know about the volunteerism that was out there from their own community faith-based groups and EMS that worked tirelessly. Those people aren’t paid for their job. Their elected officials were on the phone with us day in and day out, taking days off from their own work and prosperity to handle emergency decisions and situations in their own town. I’m also proud of all of them.
LIM: Now, months later, what is the next step for Monmouth County?
SG: The faith-based organizations that have come in from around the country have remained here. We get emails from them every day asking where they can pick up sheetrock, or how they can order up washer and dryers. Short-term, it’s about giving our residents food, water, blankets, and just a place to sleep. Now we’re into the long term recovery. I know we want to be back in business. I was at the ribbon cutting with the governor and Mayor Doherty in Belmar for the boardwalk. I commend them. They want to get the boardwalk up, and that’s an economic engine for them. But there’s so much more to do and it’s going to take a couple years. There are things in infrastructure that people don’t think about. We have sewer plants pumping water over ground because their pipes underground have been buried under 20 feet of sand in the bay, so their treatment process has been altered. The Army Corps of engineers have said the sand debris that has washed in our waterways is going to present itself in the spring. We’ve had a number of cars wash into the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers. These are all things that are going to come into play. So everybody has a different set of circumstances they have to deal with and we’re just trying on a daily basis to help them.
LIM: What can Monmouth County residents learn the most from Sandy?
SG: I think we learned a lot during Irene, and certainly more with Superstorm Sandy. So we preached preparation. We always say have a plan. Residents can go to ready.gov, the Red Cross website, or our website, or even download Smartphone apps that have checklists, and develop a plan for their family. I think people are taking that more seriously now, and I thought they did after Irene. It was a totally different storm, but I believe it really prepped our residents in the what-if scenario. I think there are things that we’ll improve upon, but overall the staff and the public agencies in the county did a tremendous job.
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