This past weekend I co-coordinated and participated in a Community Mapping Event with Dr. Wansoo Im and the Township of Toms River. The goal was to help the town collect data in order to expedite their recovery process after Superstorm Sandy. Dr. Im and his company Vertices have a developed a smart phone app that records your location and allows you to enter variables for that point and then uploads that information onto an interactive map. Our job was to also create a website which houses the data and explains the event.

The town planners of Toms River had explained that their biggest need right now was to determine large piles of debris for removal or structurally unsafe homes for demolition. The areas we worked in were along the bayside overlooking the barrier islands. Many of the properties here are either seasonal or they have been abandoned by their owners. Property maintenance and code enforcement laws have been temporarily lifted due to the devastating impacts of the storm, but now that 6 months have passed, the township feels the need to safeguard those residents that have to live nearby these properties.

The township is providing assistance for debris removal and demolition through their Private Property Debris Removal program (PPDR). This program is funded through FEMA which pays for the cost of only storm related debris removal and the demolition of structures that have damage to the foundation, walls, beams, or roof support system as a result of the storm.

When talking to the planners we learned the compromising situation they are in, they are obligated to respect people’s personal and private property, but they are also obligated to provide safety for those residents who have to live next to or in front of these damaged properties. They have previously sent letters to owners to let them know that they may qualify and now that we have collected the data, they plan to send another letter telling them that they do qualify and they have a certain amount of time to make their decision before the town must step in for the needs of public safety. Our group was surprised to see that for many of these properties, it looks as though time has stopped, and nothing had been repaired or even moved since the storm. I spoke with one of the residents who lived across the street from one of these houses and she explained her concerns over flying debris off these houses in the next storm. She also mentioned that she saw birds living in one of the houses and if she sees a rat, she’s going to move.

I enjoyed this event and was very happy to help. I know that there is much work to be done and the recovery process after Sandy will be long but this event brought to light conflicts that the planners of Toms River and the remaining residents must deal with. I think it is important to spread awareness of this issue and confirm these difficulties that many people all along the North East coast must be dealing with as they recover and rebuild after Superstorm Sandy.