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NJ’s OEM Prepares for Another Superstorm [SERIES]

In part three of our series, Are We Ready? We take a look into efforts being made by the state OEM to be ready for a future storm of Sandy’s magnitude.

Governor Chris Christie meets with Office of Emergency Management, cabinet members and senior staff in preparation of Hurricane Sandy (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

As a storm that would become Sandy moved into the Caribbean almost one year ago, the State Office of Emergency Management began to track the storm, and make preparations, just in case it ever approached New Jersey.

No one ever imagined it would make a direct hit on the Garden State six days later.

“As Sandy began to move out of the Caribbean, we employed what’s known as a Pre-Landfall Decisional Timeline to review and organize emergency shelter evacuation and communication plans, and how supplies and commodities would be accessed and moved should they be needed,” says the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, and Head of the Office of Emergency Management, Col. Rick Fuentes.

Col. Fuentes says he became concerned when the tracking models used by meteorologists began to converge – right in the middle of the Garden State.

“We knew this was coming towards us three days out, and we became very worried after the National Weather Service said they had never seen a storm like this before,” says Col. Fuentes.

When Sandy made landfall, the wave action driven by the winds hit the beaches and homes at approximately 75 miles an hour, for 24 hours straight.

“In the hours before landfall, at 2 a.m., we got word that in Moonachie, Little Ferry and Hoboken the surge came into Newark Bay, New York Bay and the Hackensack river, and flooded those communities with five to six feet of water,” he says. “It was almost like fighting a war on two fronts. We were on the barrier islands, but we had to divert rescue resources and uniformed personnel up to the north.”

So is the NJ OEM ready if another huge storm approaches the Garden State?

“We don’t have any control over the storms, the things we can control are the communications. Communications always need to be evolving, how can we do things better,” Fuentes explained. “I think we’re ready, I’m always hesitant to say that. You’re never going to be at 100 percent because emergency management and the art of emergency management is always something that have to be moving forward.”

He adds since Sandy, communications systems have been improved.

“We found that a lot of people, when the phone lines went down, use social media to do 911′s, so now what we’re doing in our Fusion Center is we’re now taking crime analysts during times of states of emergency, and we’re bringing them downstairs to navigate across those social media outlets looking for those signs of people that may need assistance.”

The bottom line, says Col. Fuentes is that he believes New Jersey has the best emergency management team in the country.

“They are very practiced and we get visits from teams around the country. We can’t help the property damage. Although in the rebuilding of the barriers, commonsense decisions are being made to try and get people out of harms way. Saving lives up front and taking people out of harms way is the best thing that you can do and the best preparation you can have.”

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