Rice To Introduce Measure To Protect Seniors, People With Disabilities During Power Outages

Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, addresses his colleagues on the Senate floor.

Measure Would Require Residential Facilities to Have Robust Back-Up Generators, Monthly Inspections

NEWARK – In the aftermath of two historic storms which battered New Jersey in the last two weeks, State Senator Ronald L. Rice said today that he plans to introduce a bill which would require residential facilities for seniors and individuals with disabilities to have robust back-up generators in place to ensure minimal loss of electricity during power outages.

“While Hurricane Sandy and the follow-up snow storm caused billions of dollars in property damage throughout New Jersey, they also served as the ultimate test for the systems that we have in place to protect New Jerseyans during severe weather conditions,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “While we were thankfully able to weather the storms with relatively little loss of life, we were unfortunately ill-prepared for the several days worth of power outages that followed the storms. We have to treat this as a learning experience, so that we can be better prepared for the next big storm or power outage.”

Senator Rice noted that residential facilities for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities are already required under law to have back-up generators in place. However, under current law, these generators are only required to provide power to common areas within the facilities. As a result, residents did not have power within their living quarters, and many hallways remained dark for more than a week as crews attempted to repair the damage to electrical lines.

“When you talk about these types of residential facilities, you’re talking about people who may have mobility issues, some of whom require constant medical attention and life support systems, and some of whom do not have the family support network in place to have somewhere else to go during an extended power outage,” said Senator Rice. “Many of these facilities were not equipped with generators powerful enough to provide electricity to the entire building for an extended period of time. Some had not had their equipment inspected in a long time, and as a result, the equipment failed when it was needed most. It’s time to take a serious look at changing the law to protect residents in these facilities.”

Senator Rice’s bill would require residential facilities to install and maintain a generator sufficient to power the entire facility for extended power outages. He said that he would be open to writing in a clause that would have the State partner with facilities to help defray some of the added cost in upgrading existing equipment. His bill would also require that the equipment be inspected once a month, to ensure that it would be functional if needed.

Senator Rice said that in addition to requiring more powerful generators at senior and disabled residential facilities, he would also urge these facilities to prepare staff in the event of an extended power shutdown. He said that many facilities ran into issues in which staff members were unable to fill oxygen tanks or charge respirators during the power outage.

“We need a statewide, comprehensive assessment of the good, the bad, and how we better prepare for the future,” said Senator Rice. “Unfortunately, these hundred year storms are occurring with more and more frequency, and we need to make sure that we have safeguards in place that – should we ever face the sort of devastation we just did again – our most vulnerable residents will still be able to get the care they need. When Nature shows us her worst, we have to be able to step up and preserve the services that people count on, and that means seamless care in residential facilities intended for seniors and people living with disabilities.”

The bill, once introduced, will likely be referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, of which Senator Rice is a member.

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