Hurricane season: Is New Jersey ready for possible disaster?
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins Wednesday, and government forecasters expect more powerful storms to threaten the East Coast and Gulf States than we’ve seen over the past three years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outlook calls for 10 to 16 named storms, but that would include four to eight hurricanes.
While this would be considered a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters stress climate conditions make it hard to predict how many hurricanes and tropical storms we’ll see from now till November.
Bearing this in mind, New Jersey state Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, is crafting legislation that would require the state Office of Emergency Management to develop and undertake an annual public awareness program to educate the public about how to evacuate New Jersey’s coastal areas in times of emergency.
The campaign would utilize broadcast and print media to inform the public of:
• The methods that the state plans to utilize to notify the public of the initiation of an emergency evacuation of a coastal area
• The evacuation routes the public is to follow
• Alternative methods of evacuation, other than that utilizing a personal motor vehicle
• Information concerning the preparation and storing of personal evacuation kits
“We in essence want to remind everybody of how important this issue is. It really is a matter of life and death,” he said.
Van Drew said if a major storm is bearing down on the coast people need to be reminded about “the reverse lane strategy, which means that all the lanes of a particular highway like the Garden State Parkway would all be going north and west, you might have one lane coming in for the National Guard.”
He said towns already have a list of those with disabilities – to make it easier to evacuate them first if a storm does threaten the coast — but this information needs to be coordinated with state officials.
He stressed we need to be constantly reminded of what to do in times of an emergency because even after a storm like Sandy a few years ago, many people aren’t prepared .
“Every year that goes by beyond the date of any original storm is another year when people feel safer and don’t really think about storms all that much,” he said. “This is in order even at the very least, if it brings up the conversation and a discussion again so that people know they need to be ready.”
Van Drew said the government, major energy producers and other entities need to be prepared and on the same page in the event of an emergency down the shore, “but there are also issues that people need to take care of themselves. They need flashlights that operate, they need a source of water that’s potable, they need some foodstuff that won’t spoil. You never know what kind of an emergency can happen, and you never know when emergency generation will or will not kick in so those issues are important as well.”
He said he,and other lawmakers are reviewing whether new legislation should move forward or if all of these elements are covered by local and county statutes. Van Drew stressed an umbrella measure would be beneficial to tie multiple elements together.
“We’re going into hurricane season and whether we do this now, or in a few months, it’s important that we make sure people know what they have to do,” he said.