TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Dana Redd which would require colleges in New Jersey to develop and coordinate comprehensive disaster preparedness plans for a number of potential emergencies, including pandemics, was approved by the Senate Education Committee today by a vote of 3-0.
“During a period of global unrest and uncertainty, public institutions are still being called on to meet the educational needs of our college students,” said Senator Redd, D-Camden and Gloucester. “Rather than wait for tragedy to strike – as it did two years ago during the Virginia Tech shooting, or almost a decade ago with the Seton Hall fire – we must coordinate with college leaders and emergency response and homeland security officials to develop practical emergency response plans. Students and their parents should be given full assurances that New Jersey’s colleges are safe learning environments, and that if the unthinkable should happen, there is a plan to protect the student body.”
The bill, S-2143, would require the governing board of each institution of higher education to put in place an emergency operations plan that will ensure the continuity of essential institution functions under all circumstances. The plan would identify a baseline of preparedness for all potential emergencies, including pandemics, to establish the institution’s ability to continue to perform essential functions during an emergency that disrupts normal operations. The plans would have to be coordinated with State and local authorities, including the State Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement officers, county offices of emergency management, and other appropriate emergency responders.
“Whether we’re talking about an outbreak of the latest super-bug, an active-shooter scenario, a bomb scare or a natural disaster, colleges must have contingency plans in place to ensure students’ safety and continue the core mission of education,” said Senator Redd. “This bill would give college administrators the benefit of the years of experience of the State’s emergency management office and local law enforcement agencies, and would ensure a coordinated, comprehensive response to any possible disaster scenario.”
The bill stipulates that each emergency response plan must include the following components: identification of essential functions, programs and personnel; procedures to implement the plan; delegation of authority and lines of succession; identification of alternative facilities and related infrastructure, including those for communications; identification and protection of vital records and databases; and schedules and procedures for periodic tests, training and exercises to prepare emergency response personnel.
Within six months of the bill’s effective date, the governing board of each institution would have to adopt and submit for approval an emergency operations plan to the Commission on Higher Education, the State Office of Emergency Management and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. The governing board would be required to review, update and resubmit the plan to the three State agencies every five years, or sooner if an emergency event occurs at the institution during the five-year period, and the agencies would be required to make recommendations for improving the plans if necessary.
“School safety shouldn’t be something that comes under the spotlight only after tragedy or when questions arise,” said Senator Redd, who said she introduced this measure before the latest swine flu scare re-emphasized the point. “College officials must constantly review the existing emergency response plans and seek to improve the institution’s ability to protect students and continue essential functions. This bill would make sure that emergency response planning becomes a standard function of all New Jersey college administrations, and that should the worst case scenario become reality, that we are prepared.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.