TUCKERTON — This small borough has had an expert heading its emergency management operations since Hurricane Sandy struck, and that expertise is helping it through the long recovery process.
For the past several months, 81-year-old Emergency Management Coordinator Harold Spedding’s white pickup truck has been parked at Tuckerton Borough Hall, where he leads the journey through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The position has required Spedding to work around the clock since the storm hit and is unpaid.
Spedding, who moved to Tuckerton in 1963 and has a career in emergency management that stretches across the country, jokes that he never really retired and never plans on it. He likes to stay busy. Spedding would have been married for 60 years this past June, but his wife, Helen, died last March.
“Why would I stop now?” he asked Sunday by telephone after ending his day of driving to Florida for a two-week fishing trip.
Spedding, a Trenton, Mercer County, native and a 32-year New Jersey State Police veteran, retired in 1986 at the rank of major after working in many capacities, including as deputy director of emergency management for the agency.
But first he was a U.S. Marine, and that is obvious when his cellphone rings. His ringtone is the “Marines’ Hymn.”
“I graduated high school in 1949, on a Friday, and on Monday I enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for Parris Island. I served for three years, including a year in Korea in combat,” he said.
When he was discharged from the Marines he was 21 and had a year to burn before he could enlist in the New Jersey State Police, which required recruits to be 22 years old. Spedding was officially a state trooper in 1954 after graduating from the academy.
Eight years after becoming a trooper he saw his first disaster — the 1962 storm that devastated the New Jersey coast.
For 10 years of his career, Spedding was stationed at the Tuckerton State Police Barracks before he was transferred to division headquarters in 1958 as a detective. He was later promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the State Police Central Security Unit.
After attending the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Academy, he was promoted to captain and headed up the State Police organized crime bureau. Then, in 1980, he was promoted to major and was transferred to the agency’s emergency management bureau until 1986, when he retired. He had to retire because he turned 55, the cutoff for the State Police.
“I would have stayed forever. I think the State Police was the greatest career I could have ever had,” he said.
After his State Police career, Spedding sold real estate on Long Beach Island at the height of the market and made some money. But he only took three years off from his lifelong career in emergency response.
“In 1989, FEMA called and asked me if I wanted to go to the Virgin Islands, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? You bet your life I do!’” he said.
He worked in the Virgin Islands for 18 months as the housing officer during Hurricane Hugo and the next 17 years as a disaster specialist across the country, evaluating nuclear power plants for offsite safety. He inspected about 100 plants throughout 15 years and worked about 50 hurricanes, he said.
After living through 50 hurricanes, he said, Hurricane Sandy was one of the most severe he has seen, but he enjoyed every minute he worked it.
“I loved it. Because I’ve been working it all my life. It was easy because I have so much experience. Everybody worked together on the whole thing. The best thing was being able to use my expertise to help the people of the borough of Tuckerton recover,” he said.
In 2007, former mayor Lee Eggert and the Borough Council hired Spedding as the emergency management coordinator. Spedding previously served as borough councilman and oversaw emergency management in the borough from 1987 to 1993. He resigned in 1994 to spend more time with his family.
“He was the only person in town who had the experience. With his experience and contacts it was a no-brainer,” Eggert said.
At the time, the borough had some deficiencies with its emergency management operations and had to make some changes fast, Eggert said.
Spedding’s was appointed after the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Emergency Management put the borough on notice that it needed to immediately address several issues or would be in danger of losing state and federal funding. Spedding took the reins of the Office of Emergency Management, facing more than a dozen delinquencies over two years old.
“Harold had been active in the community for a long time. When the good Lord said let there be light, he was the guy who threw the switch,” he said.
“As far as this storm goes, he was the best thing that happened for Tuckerton. In a situation like that, when a state of emergency is declared, he takes over the town in a sense. It was amazing. When we needed something, he got it,” he said.
Spedding had the discipline and knowledge that the borough needed and was a fixture at Borough Hall, where he set up a command post on the council’s dais, Mayor George “Buck” Evans said.
In the days and weeks after the storm, the tiny Borough Hall on Main Street was a revolving door of elected officials, police and public works employees. Spedding never complained while working around the clock, Evans said.
Spedding worked closely with Borough Administrator Jenny Gleghorn to pursue any available funding for storm relief, while making sure paperwork was precise and submitted on time.
“We’re fortunate to have him. We relied heavily on his experience and one thing I have a lot of respect for Harold is that he communicated with me on every decision and we made the decisions together,” he said.
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