Citing dangerous weekend surf activity resulting from Hurricane Danielle and forecasts that Hurricane Earl could bring potentially damaging winds to New Jersey shores by week’s end, Senator Jeff Van Drew today said it is more important than ever for the Legislature to move forward on a measure he sponsored to improve state emergency evacuation plans.
“We dodged a direct hit to our coast with Hurricane Danielle, and I’m hopeful we’ll do the same with Hurricane Earl, but it’s important to recognize that we won’t always be so fortunate,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “Updating our emergency plans is critical to ensuring that we are prepared for any weather activity that comes our way and is particularly important to protecting our residents in the event a large-scale storm impacts the coast.”
Hurricane Danielle created severe rip tides at shores across New Jersey over the weekend, resulting in dozens of rescues – more than 50 in Atlantic City alone. Hurricane Earl is expected to pass off the coast of New Jersey Thursday night into Friday, which could possibly bring tropical storm conditions to the shore regions, according to the National Weather Service.
“While hurricane season began June 1, we’re just beginning the peak period for hurricane and tropical storm activity in New Jersey ,” said Senator Van Drew. “These major storms in the Atlantic are a reminder that there’s still much work to do when it comes to creating a comprehensive emergency response plan for our state.”
The Senator’s legislation (S-264) was developed from recommendations by a legislative task force that convened in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The bill addresses 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.
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 legislation was unanimously approved last month by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee and was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it awaits consideration.