PLEASANTVILLE — City officials realized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to create a separate emergency management center and team that would exist outside of a police station or a fire house.
They had to ramp up because the city has a part-time emergency manager coordinator. Other communities have a full-time person. Also, a big part of its residential population depends on city services, so it could not afford to have a large part of its workforce come down with COVID-19.
“We were looking at this at the beginning of February and realized it was coming here. Some of the earliest estimates of where this could have been put us at a 5% infection rate citywide. We could not allow that to happen because our hospital system would just be overwhelmed,” said police Chief Sean Riggn.
The Mayor’s Office, the Police Department and Emergency Management Coordinator Danny Adcock decided to create a five-person emergency management team on April 1 that works out of an unused trailer on the grounds of the high school, Riggin said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, so far, it has worked.
The new coronavirus has proved to be particularly impactful to poor and minority communities. The city has one of the highest minority populations and poverty rates percentage-wise in the county.
As of Thursday, Pleasantville had the third highest number of COVID-19 cases at 319 behind 433 in Hammonton and 346 in Atlantic City.
But, the city was only sixth highest in the county when it came to deaths at 15. The city has had fewer deaths than Hammonton at 47, Galloway Township at 27, Absecon and Egg Harbor Township at 21 each and Northfield at 20 deaths, said Linda Gilmore, public information officer for Atlantic County.
“Mayor (Jesse L.) Tweedle and City Administrator (Linda D.) Peyton have made it very clear since the beginning that we need to be doing everything that we possibly can to keep our people as safe as we can,” Riggin said.
Tweedle, 72, has been the mayor for the last 12 years and only has six months left as he is not seeking reelection. He has a degree in business administration and more than 25 years of managerial experience, but he said he has never been in a management team that was so well-coordinated and running cohesively.
“I’m really proud of this management team,” said Tweedle, who added the managers feed off of each other. “They work as one.”
Besides Riggin and Adcock, any questions about the execution of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders are handled by Lt. Stacey Schlachter, who is the situational officer. Sgt. David Aristizabal, the resource unit leader, is in charge of all of the ordering and tracking of what is bought. Deirdra Alexander-Simms handles all of the personnel issues that come up with COVID-19.
At 2:30 p.m. on weekdays, a Zoom conference call is made that features the emergency management center, police, fire, public works, the school district, the city administration and a City Council representative to cover any COVID-19-related issues.
For instance, during one of the calls last week, officials worked on coordinating both the thermometers and personal protective equipment needed for the people who would be taking the temperatures of city employees when they returned to working inside city office buildings.
All of the city’s PPE is kept in the emergency management center for accurate monitoring and centralized ordering, Riggin said.
“Anything having to do with COVID, the goal is that you only have to make one phone call,” Riggin said.