Bill Would Ensure State is Prepared if Disaster Strikes
(TRENTON) — Sweeping legislation Assemblymen Matthew W. Milam, Nelson T. Albano and Fred Scalera sponsored to improve evacuation plans throughout the state in preparation for a catastrophic event or natural disaster, such as a hurricane or nor’easter, was released Monday by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.
“While our emergency management officials have done a great job, the state can do more to ensure residents have the tools, services and information they need to be protected if and when disaster strikes,” said Milam (D-Cumberland).
The Milam/Albano/Scalera bill (A-3224) stems from the 2008 final report of the Assembly Coastal New Jersey Evacuation Task Force.
“We can’t afford to wait until after a disaster strikes to improve our preparedness,” said Albano (D-Cumberland).
“Proper preparation and planning are essential ingredients to successfully surviving a disaster,” said Scalera (D-Essex), the chairman of the panel. “Building modern evacuation plans and contingencies will help ensure that — God forbid — should a disaster strike, New Jerseyans will be ready and able to deal with it.”
The bill would:
- Require the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to develop an annual public awareness program to educate the public on the state’s plan to evacuate New Jersey’s coastal areas during emergencies;
- Require the OEM to work with the state departments of Health and Senior Services, Community Affairs and Human Services to appoint a commission of experts to identify and reserve elementary and secondary schools to serve as temporary emergency shelters, and identify and reserve locations to serve as long-term shelters for individuals displaced from their homes for more than six months. Following the enactment of the bill, all new schools in the state would be constructed to serve as adequate shelters;
- Require the OEM to ensure consistency among evacuation plans of coastal counties by coordinating with county OEMs to revise inconsistent plans;
- Require the OEM to work with each county emergency management coordinator to identify critical infrastructure that would need an alternative emergency power generator;
- Require counties to create central registries for individuals with special needs who would require assistance during an emergency. The registries would be managed by the county OEMs and would consist of the address, telephone number and particular condition or assistance needs of each registrant;
- Provide the State Police work with the state Department of Transportation and county emergency management coordinators to implement a lane reversal strategy on the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway in preparation for an evacuation during an emergency;
- Require each Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) to include a provision specifically designed to address the needs and facilitate the safe and timely evacuation of the families and dependents of the emergency responders rendering major disaster or emergency services;
- Require county and municipal EOPs to evaluate evacuation procedures for hospitals and other health care facilities, alternate sources of care for evacuated patients and proposed sites of temporary shelter in an emergency; and
- Require each EOP to include provisions to address the needs of domestic livestock and domesticated animals during a major disaster.
The legislators have worked with emergency management professionals and volunteers from across the state to develop the legislation.
“This is a comprehensive approach to disaster preparedness that will keep our first responders and our residents safe in the event of an actual emergency,” said Scalera.
“The measures would help streamline emergency operations during a disaster, identify buildings as shelters and critical infrastructure and have specific statewide and coastal evacuation plans at the state, county and local levels,” Albano said.
“New Jersey hasn’t seen a major hurricane in a long time, but we know disaster can hit and we must be prepared for the worst so we handle it the best,” Milam said. “We don’t want a repeat of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Jersey.”
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.