Mary Goepfert, External Affairs Officer, NJOEM
HURRICANE SEASON STARTS JUNE 1ST – 10 TIPS TO ENHANCE YOUR COMMUNITY’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT CAPABILITY
Hurricane Season starts June 1 and lasts through November 30th. Typically you will hear the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Hurricane Center informing the public about hurricanes and other associated severe weather hazards, providing knowledge which can be used to take preparedness actions. These actions can be used to save lives anywhere - at home, in schools, and in the workplace before hurricanes, severe storms and flooding strike.
The NJ Office of Emergency Management promotes disaster preparedness in communities statewide, through programs which encourage community resilience, citizen engagement and inclusion of all populations in emergency plans. Below are ten tips elected officials can use to improve a community’s crisis management capability for natural disasters, and all types of hazards.
1. It’s All in the Plan – Planning, training and exercising are the foundation of the community’s emergency management program. Meet with your municipal emergency management officials and ask about updates to the municipal Emergency Operations Plan. If there are exercises planned, observe and support the participants. Allow municipal officials the time to attend free emergency management training and professional development classes (http://www.ready.nj.gov/programs/training-schedule.html) sponsored by the NJOEM, the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
2. Emergency Management Begins at Home – The level of household preparedness is the basis for how well the community can “survive the storm”. Encourage residents to be prepared by maintaining situational awareness about events, developing family disaster plans and developing disaster supply kits. There may be residents in the community who do not have the resources to store food, etc.; part of the planning process is determining how these individuals can also be helped. National Severe Weather Awareness Week Officials are asking Americans to be a force of nature – know the risks, take action and be an example by sharing has been done, with friends, family, coworkers, and others.
3. People First – When disaster strikes, life safety and human needs are the top priorities. Ask your emergency management officials about shelter (mass care) plans, and who will assist until the Red Cross or other voluntary agencies arrive. Disasters impact individuals physically, fiscally and psychologically. Know how to access the NJ Disaster Response Crisis Counselors and recommend NJ Division of Mental Health’s “Project Recover” Helpline (1 (877) 294-HELP (4357) and the TTY number is 1 (877) 294-4356 or http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dmhs/disaster/) if individuals need advice and assistance with coping.
4. Power in Partnerships – Your Local Emergency Planning Committee members typically represent the agencies of local government, public safety, health, human services, etc. Are there other organizations in the community – faith based, private sector, health, small businesses, educational, private non-profit, service organizations – that have ideas or other contributions to enhance the community planning effort?
5. “Special Needs” are Access and Functional Needs (AFN) – “Special Needs” planning should not be “special.” Inclusion of and accessibility to all emergency management programs, by all community members, is a legal and moral obligation of the municipality. This includes mass care and alert and warning systems. Individuals with access and functional needs have disaster related concerns because of their communication, supervision, maintaining independence, medical or transportation needs. For more information about AFN planning, visit http://www.ready.nj.gov/plan/special-needs.html.
6. Plan to Recover – The faster the NJOEM can collect data about the impact of an event, the faster it can interface with FEMA regarding the possibility of federal assistance. Make sure there are individuals who can quickly assess the scope and impact of the event on the community; and interact with state and federal officials on the ground during the preliminary damage assessment process. Avoid making promises about federal assistance. Presidential Disaster Declarations, if they are granted, are announced from the White House; and may take several weeks after an event occurs. There is a difference between a State of Emergency Declaration and a Presidential Disaster Declaration; a State of Emergency Declaration does not automatically guarantee a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Keep excellent records of disaster-related expenditures, including the activities leading up to the event. There are short and long-term facets to the recovery process; expect to work with your emergency management officials to guide residents through the process.
7. Leverage All Communication Resources – Situational awareness is the first step to preventing loss of life. Studies show that individuals need to receive messages a number of ways before taking appropriate action. Many are more likely to act when the messages are received from a trusted source - family, friends, community leader or local elected official. Amplify alert and warnings issued from the National Weather Service and NJ Office of Emergency Management; consistent messaging from a variety of sources builds credibility and increases the chance that residents will take appropriate actions to protect themselves. Use social and traditional media to spread the word. If your community has its own alert and warning system, use it wisely and publicize it widely.
8. Advocate Intelligently - The emergency management and emergency operations center (EOC) systems exist to insure that resources are be available when needed. Resource management is a key function of the EOC. Anticipate resource needs and request them, through the EOC chain of command (municipal-county-state-federal), before they are needed.
9. Encourage Civic Engagement - Over 18,000 New Jerseyans, through the various Citizens Corps volunteer programs, have aided evacuees with basic needs, worked with FEMA Community Relations Officers after floods to provide information about disaster assistance, and helped with medical needs shelter planning. In the two weeks following Tropic Storm Irene, NJ Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers statewide logged nearly 42,000 hours. They served disaster survivors by helping with clean up, staffing emergency operations centers and call centers, and aiding with evacuation and shelter operations. If your municipality administers one of the Citizens Corps programs, show your appreciation and support. If you don’t have one, join the other 430 CERT teams who are promoting a culture of personal responsibility and volunteer service in their municipalities. Based on the tradition of "neighbor helping neighbor," Citizen Corps programs build strong communities, enhance the capabilities of emergency services organizations, and empower individuals to act responsibly and respond appropriately during critical times. For more information regarding NJ Citizen Corps programs, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/njoem/citizen/cert.html
10. Break the Disaster Cycle Through Risk Reduction – “How can we prevent losses in the future ?” is often asked after a disaster, but the question is best posed before the event. Examine your planning, zoning and building practices for opportunities for sustainable growth and mitigation efforts. Pre and post disaster mitigation funds are available if the community is willing to ask tough questions and stay committed to process. For information about hazard mitigation in New Jersey, visit: http://www.ready.nj.gov/programs/opb_mitigation.html
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