Lawmakers Want to Improve New Jersey’s Storm Preparedness

June 16, 2009

There have always been lingering concerns over how New Jersey would be able to quickly evacuate large numbers of people during hurricanes or other natural disasters, especially among coastal residents.

And with that in mind, the Assembly may consider legislation this week that supporters say could improve evacuation plans throughout the state.

“We can’t afford to wait until after a disaster strikes to improve our preparedness,” said Assemblyman Nelson T. Albano, D-Cape May Court House, who is co-sponsoring the bill. “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.”

The Assembly Appropriations Committee recently released the measure (A-3786), which could be considered by the whole Assembly on Thursday.

The bill calls for changes including:

  • Having state emergency management officials develop an annual public awareness program to educate residents on evacuation plans. Officials also would help identify critical infrastructure in the state that would require an alternative emergency power generator. Counties would be asked to establish central registries for people with special needs who might need help during an emergency.
  • Having state police work with county emergency management coordinators to allow traffic to use both sides of heavily traveled shore highways like the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway.
  • County and municipal emergency operations officials would 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.

The bill’s other co-sponsor, Assemblyman Matthew W. Milam, D-Cape May Court House, said the changes are important.

“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.”

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