Legislation Senator Jeff Van Drew sponsored to improve state emergency evacuation plans in preparation for a catastrophic event or natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tropical storm, was approved unanimously today 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.
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.
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 domestic livestock and domesticated animals in evacuation plans, in addition to the current requirement to address the needs of farm and service animals during an emergency.
The measure now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.