COASTAL EVAUCATION BILL MOVES THROUGH COMMITTEE

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 approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Developed from the recommendations of a legislative task force formed in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the bill (S-264) addresses a number of areas involving emergency response, from identifying adequate shelters to be used in the event of an emergency to establishing evacuation strategies on major coastal roadways to ensure that residents are able to vacate an affected area in an orderly fashion. A key piece of the legislation would require that evacuation plans are consistent among counties and ensure the public is made 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). “While we are more prepared for a large-scale storm than we were before Hurricane Katrina, we can do better. This legislation will improve our level of preparedness 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.”

Specifically, the bill would require the director of the state Office of Emergency Management to review the evacuation plans of coastal counties, as well as those that surround them. Working with county emergency officials, the director would integrate plans among counties, and between the counties and the state.

The bill would also require the director of OEM to launch a public awareness campaign using the Internet and other available resources 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:

            SHELTERS

– Require a team of experts – with members from the Office of Emergency Management, the departments of Health and Senior Services, Community Affairs and Human Services – to identify schools and other locations that could be used as short- and long-term shelters in a state-wide emergency.

– 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 the Department of Transportation and emergency management coordinators to implement a lane reversal strategy on the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway 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.

SPECIAL NEEDS

– 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 a number of the recommendations.

The bill was approved by a 10-0 vote. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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