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Mazzeo, Houghtaling, Downey, Andrzejczak & Land Bill to Bolster Disaster Preparedness in At-Risk Counties Now Law

Measure Establishes Biennial Risk Assessment, Provides Funding for Counties Prone to Weather-Related Disasters

Legislation Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Eric Houghtaling, Joann Downey, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land sponsored to help minimize damage during severe weather events is now law.

“More than four years after Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey continues to repair the damage, and families continue to deal with the financial and emotional toll of the storm. Fostering connections between the state and counties most prone to catastrophic storm damage can reduce the likelihood of similar devastation in the future,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic).

“Comprehensive regional planning, regulation and coordination between the state and county emergency management offices are key to keeping people safe and reducing the cost of rebuilding after an extreme weather event.”

“Coastal communities in New Jersey are at risk for experiencing the greatest amount of devastation during a severe weather event, and our state has a responsibility to ensure that those areas are well-prepared to minimize that damage,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “The weather may be beyond our control, but there’s no excuse for not being prepared, particularly when we know which regions of the state are the most vulnerable.”

The legislation’s sponsors noted that severe weather events, such as hurricanes and nor’easters, result in loss of life, property damage and unsanitary conditions that are detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of New Jersey residents and threaten the state’s businesses.

The new law (A-4204) requires the state Office of Emergency Management to establish a county storm preparedness funding program. The intent of the program is to limit loss of life and property damage by ensuring that the counties most vulnerable to severe weather conditions are identified and that necessary precautions are taken by the Office of Emergency Management to protect the public from the potential dangers and losses attributable to storm damage.

“People with high hopes bought homes and built businesses in New Jersey, only to see everything destroyed on a single day in 2012. Many of them still are struggling to get back to normal,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Providing counties with the funding they need to carry out their duty to protect people and property will help prevent devastation during future weather emergencies.”

In implementing the program, the Office of Emergency Management, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities, will conduct a risk assessment every two years to determine each county’s degree of vulnerability to infrastructure damage caused by severe weather conditions. The law authorizes the director of the Office of Emergency Management, subject to available state appropriations, federal grants and any other funds that become available, to annually provide funding to the county offices of emergency management in amounts proportionate to each county’s risk assessment. The funds must be used by the county emergency management offices exclusively for emergency preparedness purposes, which may include, but shall not be limited to: the purchase or modernization of emergency management facilities, emergency equipment, flood mitigation services or emergency management vehicles.

“Areas like the Delaware Bayshore in Cumberland County had to fight for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when they ought to have been at the top of the list for the most assistance right away,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “Regular assessments of each county’s vulnerability will ensure that the hardest hit areas are equipped beforehand to respond whenever disaster strikes.”

“Time is of the essence in an emergency situation. The better prepared a county is to deal with a severe weather event, the faster it can help those in danger and the more likely it is that it can limit the extent of the damage,” said Land (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “Providing funding in accordance with a county’s degree of vulnerability is a smart, strategic means of executing emergency preparedness statewide.”

The formula for the risk assessment shall be based on the following criteria:

  • the number of times that all or a portion of a county has been declared a federal disaster area due to a storm or flood occurring in the prior 10 years;
  • the amount of property damage incurred within a county as a result of storms or floods occurring in the prior 10 years that caused all or a portion of the county to be declared a federal disaster area;
  • the number of times that all or a portion of a county has been declared an agricultural disaster area by the United States Secretary of Agriculture due to a storm or flood occurring in the prior 10 years, and the amount of damage incurred and acreage affected;
  • the estimated total assessed value of all real property in a county;
  • the estimated number of people in a county residing in a flood hazard area;
  • the number of times in the prior 10 years that at least 1,000 households and businesses in a county have lost power for at least two days due to a storm or flood event;
  • the number of permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to the “Flood Hazard Area Control Act,” the waterfront development law and the “Coastal Area Facility Review Act,” in a county in the prior five years;
  • the estimated number of people in a county residing within 150 feet of the mean high water line of any tidal waters;
  • the mileage of coastal shoreline in a county;
  • the mileage of streams at least 10 feet wide that have flooded their banks in a county in the prior five years; and
  • any other factors or parameters that the Office of Emergency Management, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection, may determine to be useful and appropriate.

The results of the risk assessment shall be incorporated into the State Emergency Operations Plan, which the law also establishes. The plan is to be developed in consultation with the Department of Agriculture to support the needs of animals and individuals with an animal under their care, including domestic livestock, a domesticated animal, or a service animal, in a major disaster or emergency, and the Department of Health and Senior Services, to provide for a coordinated statewide evacuation strategy for all hospitals and other health care facilities in New Jersey, alternative sources of care for evacuated patients and proposed sites of temporary shelter in the event of an emergency.

The new law will take effect in December.