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April 2011 Featured Article


Catastrophic Disaster: Can it Happen in New Jersey?

Triad Associates


The shocking and horrific images coming from Japan beg the question:  Can such a tragedy happen here in New Jersey?  Generally speaking, it is not likely.  We are fortunate to live in a part of the world that is not inclined to many natural disasters, but we are not immune to them either.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the most powerful earthquake to rock New Jersey was the November 1783 quake which would have measured 5.3 on today’s Richter Scale.  While a more powerful quake has not been felt in more than 225 years that does not preclude the possibility. The likelihood of such an event however, is very small. 

Earthquakes with a magnitude 5.0 occur 500 times on the average worldwide and generally cause minimal damage.  So, earthquakes that might be typical of this region are not expected to cause major damage to buildings or property.  A recent March 15, 2011 article in The Press of Atlantic City quoted seismologists and nuclear engineers indicating that there is no history on the Atlantic Coast of geological fault or other activity that would trigger a massive earthquake or related tsunami.


A far more likely New Jersey natural disaster would be one related to a variety of weather scenarios, including floods, tornados and particularly hurricanes.  The Cape May Hurricane of 1821 is the last major hurricane to make a direct landfall on the Garden State, although there have been a number of storms that have brushed the coast or traveled up the Delmarva Peninsula.  Hurricane Hazel in 1954 caused $350 million dollars in damage along the east coast from North Carolina to New York.  More recently Hurricane Floyd in 1999 wreaked billions of dollars in damages in New Jersey and a number of other east coast states, and caused major flooding throughout many Atlantic coastal communities.

So, whether it is from fire, hurricanes, flooding, tornados, the occasional earthquake or some other natural phenomenon, municipalities need to be prepared for natural disasters.  There are many resources available to assist New Jersey communities in this effort.  Some good places to start preparing a municipal disaster plan or for guidance on informing the public include:


  • The NJ Office of Emergency Management: This office, coordinated through the NJ State Police, provides a wide range of information on training, education and disaster planning for schools, municipalities and residents.
  • County EMS Offices: Chances are your County government has an Emergency Management Office or Department that coordinates with local government, drills for a variety of natural and man-made disasters and regularly prepares and updates a plan for dealing with natural disasters in your community.
  • The NJ Emergency Preparedness Association: Every year this organization holds a conference that includes emergency management officials at all levels of government, first responders, equipment vendors, technical experts and community stakeholders.  This year’s event is May 2-6 at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City.
  • Federal Agencies: Agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers information on disaster planning, crisis management and recovery strategies to deal with natural catastrophes.  The United State Environmental Protection Agency also offers a wide variety of training and technical material to guide communities, families and other organizations in this effort.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC): The CDC is a surprising source of information on natural disaster planning, given that most people expect this agency to deal exclusively with viral and other disease related epidemics.  The CDC provides a range of materials that can be useful to local government.

Certainly, this is not an exclusive or exhaustive list of sources.  But if you have not examined and updated your municipal emergency preparedness plan, it is important to do so.  If you do not have one, prepare one.  A sound and well coordinated communication strategy is critical in the aftermath of any disaster and it is important that local government officials know who to call and the protocol of disaster management in the event your municipality has to deal with a natural disaster of any type.


There is funding available that can help your municipality achieve its disaster planning goals, but it is difficult to obtain.  Most municipalities are most effective coordinating their emergency plans with their county, local police forces and emergency service offices.  Typically, funding for emergency and disaster planning comes through the State to County EMS Departments.  It is possible however, to apply for planning funds if your disaster plan is geared to a specific population group such as senior citizens, children or the disabled.  Partnering with medical services providers, non profit organizations and other community groups can open up lines of funding typically not available to municipalities. 


Municipalities and counties can apply for disaster relief from FEMA and other agencies, however this money is meant to help them recover from natural disasters which have already occurred.  And the purpose of disaster planning is to stay one step ahead of what Mother Nature may have in store.


Triad Associates is currently the League’s Grant Consulting Firm. Their firm, which is known for its expertise in community and economic development, including strategic planning, redevelopment, acquisition, relocation and funding, has brought diverse plans and projects to life by generating more than $580,000,000 for over 120 public, private and nonprofit clients throughout the Northeast region since 1978. Every member of the Triad team is personally committed and dedicated to the success of its clients and the projects that benefit communities. 


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