Improves Emergency Procedures For Catastrophic Event, Natural Disaster
TRENTON – Legislation Senators Jeff Van Drew and John Girgenti sponsored to improve state emergency evacuation plans in preparation for a catastrophic event or natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tropical storm, was unanimously approved yesterday by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Developed from the recommendations of a legislative task force, the bill (S-264) addresses a number of areas involving emergency response, from ensuring that plans are consistent among counties, to making the public aware of the procedures to follow in the event of an evacuation.
“We cannot predict when disaster will strike, but we can take steps to ensure we are ready to respond if necessary,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “This legislation will improve the level of preparedness among counties, and ensure coordination with the state, so that we can quickly get residents out of harm’s way in the event of a natural disaster or, god forbid, a man-made catastrophe.”
First, the bill would require the director of the state Office of Emergency Management to establish a team of experts to review the evacuation plans of coastal counties, as well as those that surround them. Working with county emergency officials, the team would integrate plans among counties, and between the counties and the state.
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.
“Updating our emergency evacuation plans is critical to ensuring the safety of our residents,” said Senator Girgenti (D-Passaic/Bergen), chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. ”Equally important is making sure the public knows the proper procedures to follow in the event of an evacuation. By addressing both areas, we will ensure that if we must respond to a disaster, we do it in the most effective and efficient way possible.”
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.
Additionally, the team would identify schools that do not meet the standards under current law for the licensing of emergency shelters and, if needed, allocate funding for the renovation, repair, or alteration of those buildings. Any school built following the effective date of the law would be required to meet specifications to serve as a temporary emergency shelter.
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
• 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.
• Prohibit the towing of a drawn or towed trailer in the area where an emergency had been declared and an evacuation ordered, regardless of whether lane reversal was in effect.
• 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.
• Require the Department of Health and Senior Services to provide for a coordinated statewide evacuation strategy for hospitals and other health care facilities, to include a plan to get patients alternative sources of care and temporary shelter.
• Expand Emergency Operation Plans on the state, county and municipal levels to include domesticated animals in evacuation plans, in addition to the current requirement to address the needs of farm and service animals 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, which Van Drew chaired as a member of the General Assembly, held five meetings in separate coastal counties over eight months, and finalized its work in May of 2008. The legislation would implement 10 of the 14 recommendations.
The measure now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.