That’s the mindset it took for Mayor Dina Long and the tiny borough of Sea Bright to survive and recover from Superstorm Sandy. The coastal community had experienced storms and flooding before, but nothing could have prepared the one-square-mile town for one-square mile of destruction.
What makes Sea Bright attractive and unique for residents and visitors is the same thing that makes it vulnerable.
“Anybody who has a heart for the water can’t help but be drawn to Sea Bright because we have sunrise in the morning, and we have sunset in the evening being surrounded by water on two sides,” the mayor said.
But on October 29, 2012, Long’s small, charming town was stuck between a rock (the raging Atlantic Ocean on the east) and a hard place (the overflowing Shrewsbury River on the west).
You saw the images of the aftermath. Mountains of sand. Debris scattered everywhere. Donovan’s Reef and other local restaurants leveled. The beachfront bullied across Route 36 by the ocean.
It was devastation.
Long was sworn into office as mayor in January 2012. Just 10 months later, her leadership was tested by the natural disaster.
“There was no time for shock or awe,” Long said. “We really just had to get to the task of dealing with it crisis by crisis until we got through the emergency. We got through it by focusing on the task at hand and kept it moving. We didn’t wait for rescue.”
The mayor moved quickly securing help for her town, applying for grants and emergency assistance, as well as forming strategic partnerships. She went from house to house checking on residents and tracking down those who hadn’t returned yet to see how the town could help them.
And she did it all in her “spare” time since being mayor is a volunteer position. It was a crash course in leadership, which Long will talk about at TEDxNavesink Makers on April 9.
“(Hurricane Sandy) taught me about relying on yourself, trusting yourself, and trusting your instincts,” said Long, who served as a councilwoman before being elected mayor. “I learned about the importance of movement and being in motion in order to make things happen. I learned about the importance of resources, partnerships, and community and bringing those three things together in a way that’s effective.”
Through her leadership and the grittiness of the borough’s residents, Sea Bright is showing signs of recovery three years after the storm. Most of the residents have returned, and many businesses have reopened.
“I think Sea Bright still has its daily struggles recovering from Sandy, but I also think Sea Bright’s doing better than anybody would’ve expected given the level of damage we sustained here,” the mayor said.
Along with the recovery and renewed buzz around town are necessary changes to help mitigate future damage. Some preventive measures the mayor has overseen include:
- Obtaining federal and state funding to repair the sea walls on the east side
- Securing grants to build bulkheads on the west side
- Obtaining a grant for a pumping station for storm water
- Updating elevation requirements for homes
Long is well aware that another catastrophe could hit the beloved town where she has lived for 14 years. But one can hit anywhere. And that’s something she’ll try to relay to the audience at Makers.
“I want people to take away from my talk an awareness that Superstorm Sandy may not have been a once in a lifetime event,” Long said. “I want people to take away the idea of how important your mindset is in approaching a situation.
“One of the things that kept us going in Sea Bright was a relentless optimism that, as hard as it was, it was somehow going to work out, and it was going to be OK. And it wound up working out and being OK. I think that mindset got us through it.”
You can hear more about Mayor Long and what Hurricane Sandy taught her about leadership at TEDxNavesink Makers on April 9. Get your tickets today to be in the audience to experience ideas worth spreading.