October 2, 2013

Princeton and Mercer County Officials Advise Emergency Preparedness Now

While local residents enjoy this pleasant fall weather, local officials are thinking ahead to what might be on the horizon.

In case you missed it, September was designated Storm Preparedness Month nationwide, which prompted Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes to begin urging residents to gear up before an emergency strikes.

“It’s time to take some simple steps to prepare your home, business, or school for the next potential disaster,” said Mr. Hughes, whose administration advises a three step approach. First make a plan. Next create an emergency kit. Then make sure that you and your family are able to stay informed. As Mr. Hughes’ team puts it “Go In, Stay In, Tune In.”

Last year, on October 26, Superstorm Sandy struck. Although Princeton and the rest of Mercer County didn’t see as much damage as the Jersey Shore, power outages affected 90 percent of the county.

Councilman Patrick Simon, who chaired the town’s emergency preparedness task force this spring and is now on the local emergency management committee, reports that the first basic emergency operation plan covering all of Princeton (uniting former Borough and Township plans) has just been approved.

“We’ve built upon lessons learned from recent experience with weather and other emergencies, and the emergency planning work done in recent years in both the Borough and the Township,” said Mr. Simon, noting that for last year, during the transition to consolidation, both municipalities coordinated the response to Superstorm Sandy through a single Emergency Operations Center. The year before, in response to Hurricane Irene, the two municipalities set up separate centers.

Unless residents are specifically told by local officials to evacuate, they should go inside, shelter there, and listen to local radio and television broadcasts for information.

As a rule of thumb, local schools and health care facilities will be the go-to places. And then there’s the town’s “living room,” as the Princeton Public Library has come to be known.

During Sandy, the library accommodated hundreds of people seeking warmth and a place to recharge their cell phones and laptops. Asked about the possibility of a similar situation this year, Library Director Leslie Burger said: “This is something we think about all the time. Hopefully we won’t have a storm this year but if we do, the library will do what it can. During Sandy and Irene, we were lucky not to lose power; as long as the library has power, we’ll be a place for people to come and connect to the internet and recharge their devices.”

Since then, the library has upgraded its wireless network and now has a system that offers connectivity that is 20 times faster than before. There is also expanded coverage in the building and outside on the Albert Hinds Plaza. “Last year, we hit capacity very quickly and some people were unable to connect to the network, that won’t happen with our new system which can also accommodate all kinds of devices,” says Ms. Burger, adding that the library already has a lot of extension cords and will “be looking to get a back-up generator at some point.”

As for staying well-informed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  suggest taking advantage of multiple media: websites, newspapers, radio, TV, and mobile and land phones for global, national, and local information.

Since family members may not all be in the same place when an emergency occurs, the first recommendation is to have a family plan for getting getting everyone back together and to a safe place. Ready.gov and FEMA suggest that each family member has a contact card with important information and phone numbers. Every member of the family should keep this card with them at all times, in a purse, wallet, or backpack. Families are advised to discuss how to contact each other, where to meet, and what to do in different situations.

A Family Emergency Plan template can be downloaded from the Ready.gov website: www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/FamEmePlan_2013.pdf.

Among other items, an emergency or home disaster supply kit should include: a three-day supply of bottled water (1 gallon per person, per day); non-perishable packaged or canned foods (don’t forget a manual can and bottle opener); a change of clothing for each member of the family; rain gear or coats depending on the time of year; blankets or sleeping bags for each member of the family; a battery powered radio with extra batteries; two flashlights with batteries; emergency candles and matches; sanitary supplies (toilet paper, handy wipes, etc.); a first aid kit and essential medications for the family, and for your pets.

Detailed lists of what to include along with other good advice are on the Ready.gov site (www.ready.gov) and on Princeton’s municipal website: www.princetonnj.gov/emerg-mgt.html.

It is recommended that residents consider two questions: what supplies and plans do they need in order to have the ability to “stay,” and what supplies and plans do they need in order to have the ability to “go,” if necessary.

Kits should comprise sturdy and easy to carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags, or large trash containers in the event that you may have to evacuate and take your emergency supplies with you.

A small writing tablet with two or three pencils, a pocket knife or multi-purpose type tool; and between $50 and $100 money on hand in cash in case electronic teller machines are down because of lost power; and reading materials or games to help pass the time are also suggested.

Those with medical needs are being encouraged to be especially proactive and to consider buying a generator to power any medical devices, and to call 9-1-1 in the case of experiencing health difficulties of a serious nature during a storm.

“By the end of the year we expect to complete 15 plan annexes covering various aspects of emergency management in detail, including shelters and comfort centers, alerts and emergency communications, hazardous materials events, and emergency medical,” said Mr. Simon.

The booklet, “Preparing for Emergencies, What You Need to Know” is available from the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management (http://nj.gov/counties/mercer/departments/psem/), and the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (www.state.nj.us/njoem/).

If you are in any doubt as to whether you have done all you can to get ready for the next storm, try the American Red Cross Preparedness Quiz. In five questions, you’ll be able to discover what more you need to do or learn.

Mr. Simon and the members of Princeton Council are encouraging all residents to register for the emergency phone notifications service, which update residents during storms and other emergencies within Princeton. To do so, visit the local government website: www.princetonnj.gov/ems-phone-register.html, where you will be able to add home and mobile telephone numbers.

For more information, visit these useful websites: US Dept of Homeland Security: www.ready.gov; State of New Jersey: www.state.nj.us; Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.FEMA.gov; American Red Cross: www.redcross.org; Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov; New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services: www.state.nj.us/health.