Houghtaling, Downey Bill to Bolster Disaster Preparedness in At-Risk Counties Now Law

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Legislation sponsored by Monmouth County Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey to help protect at-risk counties during severe weather events is now law.

"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.

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.

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