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Van Drew: Predictions Of Active Hurricane Season Underscore Need To Update Coastal Evacuation Plans

Hurricane Season Began This Month, Runs Through November

TRENTON – Citing forecasters’ predictions of an extremely active 2010 hurricane season, Senator Jeff Van Drew today urged action on legislation he sponsored to update the state’s emergency evacuation procedures.

“It’s impossible to predict exactly what Mother Nature has in store for us this hurricane season, but coordination and planning will ensure we are prepared in the event a large-scale storm hits our coast,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “While this is something we should be doing regularly, predictions that this hurricane season will be extremely active make it that much more necessary that we update our emergency evacuation plans. We must also make sure residents know what to expect if, god forbid, disaster strikes.”

The senator’s legislation (S-264) would address a broad range of issues to better prepare the state for a hurricane or tropical storm, from ensuring that evacuation plans are consistent among counties, to giving the public information about how to respond in the event of an emergency evacuation.

First, the bill would require the state Office of Emergency Management to establish a team of experts to review the plans of coastal counties, as well as those that surround them. Working with county emergency officials, the team would revise plans that are inconsistent with neighboring counties or with state Emergency Operations Plan Guidelines and integrate the final product into a state-wide evacuation plan.

The Office of Emergency Management would also be required to launch a public awareness campaign to provide residents with information about how they would be notified in the event of an emergency evacuation, which routes they should follow and the supplies they should have readily available in the event of a disaster.

Other provisions in the bill would:

• Require a team of experts – with members from the Office of Emergency Management, and the departments of Health and Senior Services and Community Affairs – to identify elementary and secondary schools that could be used as short-term shelters in a state-wide emergency. The commission would also identify and reserve locations to serve as long-term shelters.

• Require the New Jersey State Police to work in conjunction with county emergency management coordinators to implement a lane reversal strategy on the Atlantic City Expressway, the Garden State Parkway, and Interstate 287 in preparation for an evacuation during an emergency.

• Require state and county emergency management officials to identify critical infrastructure that would need alternative emergency power generators in the event of an outage.

• Allow counties to develop a central registry for residents with special needs who require additional assistance during an emergency.

The bill was developed from recommendations by an 11-member state task force that reviewed emergency plans in the wake of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The Assembly Coastal New Jersey Evacuation Task Force held five meetings in separate coastal counties over eight months, and finalized its work in May of 2008.

Van Drew, who chaired the panel while serving in the Assembly, said his bill will address some of the most pressing issues identified by the task force.

“Our group looked at everything from available shelter space to the effectiveness of evacuation procedures already on the books,” said Senator Van Drew. “Emergency management professionals across counties conducted a comprehensive review of safety and security issues and developed recommendations for improvement. While the panel’s central focus was coastal evacuation, the bill resulting from this important work will improve emergency preparedness in all regions of the state.”

Hurricane season began June 1, however, the peak potential for Hurricane and Tropical Storm activity in New Jersey runs from mid-August through the end of October, according to the state Office of Emergency Management.

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