ARE YOU READY FOR HURRICANE SEASON? These volunteers are, from left, back row: Robert Gregory, director of Princeton’s Office of Emergency Management; Jeffery Clarke; Jerome Scott; Martin Mbugua; Jay Vaughn; Mark Scheibner; TR Johnson of the Princeton Fire Department; Kate Warren; Roz Warren; Sal Baldino, of the Princeton Fire Department; front row: Rania Salem. Fayez Azeez, Ron DiLapo. Volunteer team members not pictured are recent CERT Team graduates
Afroula Ippolito and Trish Verbeyst; and Sara Braverman, Penelope Chambers, Judy Gorberg, Steve Kolock and David Sayen, who completed an earlier class. (Image courtesy of Princeton Office of Emergency Management)
According to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM) the Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. New Jersey’s tropical storm activity is typically between August and late October. All of which means that now is the time to prepare.
With hazardous weather affecting New Jersey residents on a regular basis with short- and long-term power outages and possibilities of flooding and the destruction of property, “There has been a huge push on the part of the state to encourage participation from the community and enlist volunteers,” said Princeton Director of Emergency and Safety Services Robert G. Gregory.
In recognition of this, Princeton Council President Bernie Miller and Council members Heather Howard and Patrick Simon have been instrumental in the municipality’s participation in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, which prepares team members to assist their families, neighbors, and co-workers in the event of an emergency. They are trained to support professional and volunteer first responders, and to provide assistance themselves when first responders are not immediately available.
Twelve Princeton residents completed a seven-week CERT course this spring at the Mercer County Fire Academy that included fire extinguisher training, first aid skills, and search and rescue drills. Training was conducted by Fire Academy staff and members of the Princeton Fire Department and Office of Emergency Services.
“Our first set of volunteers graduated in April and in addition six more just went through the CERT Administrative Program of the state Office of Emergency Management including myself, Princeton Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser and Director of Human Services Elisa Neira.”
While natural disasters like hurricanes cannot be avoided, there are safety measures that might ameliorate their effects. NJOEM’s Hurricane Survival Guide for New Jersey gives advice on ways of securing the safety of families, homes and pets; advice that holds for all types of natural disasters.
Mr. Simon agrees that now is the time to plan ahead and make sure emergency supplies are in order. He suggests the guidelines provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, www.ready.gov), which recommends that people prepare to shelter in place for at least three days in the event of an emergency. “FEMA recommends keeping at least three days’ supply of water and non-perishable food, a first aid kit, flashlights and spare batteries, a fire extinguisher, and other essential supplies,” he said.
The rule of thumb, said Mr. Gregory, is to take care of your own family first, then look to neighbors and then to the community at large. “Weather-related emergencies can be planned for,” he said, noting that one of the first things that the municipality will do is to time the opening of the Emergency Operation Centers for police, first responders, representatives from the Recreation Department, Fire Department and Rescue Squad to meet and plan for the allocation of resources.”
“I tell people not to wait until there’s an emergency, there’s a lot can be done in advance,” said Mr. Gregory. “A huge push after Superstorm Sandy to have people shelter-in-place. And it’s my experience that most people want to stay at home, where they feel most comfortable. One of the things that the public can do is to purchase a back-up generator. Having food and water for three days is another.”
What does Mr. Gregory have in his home? “My wife is great at finding charging devices and there are many options out there including portable flashlights with chargers. I have three different charging devices that I use for a computer and small devices like cell phones. If the cable is still working it’s good to be able to turn on the TV to check for news and weather updates. Radios are always good too. If people can’t afford, or if they are not able to get, a generator, these devices are most helpful. I’m also looking into getting a generator. Ideally I’d like to find one that is solar powered.”
As for hurricane season, Mr. Gregory said that according to weather experts tropical depressions that can turn into hurricanes can be expected in New Jersey from June through November, but in his experience the heightened period is August through October. Although you can’t let your guard down, that seems to be the period for this region.
“As necessary, we will open up community resource centers where people can go to find coffee and charge up their phones and computers,” said Mr. Gregory. “For a prolonged emergency, it would be possible to open up local schools and gyms so that people could take showers.”
NJOEM’s Hurricane Survival Guide suggests three steps from which the following is a very brief excerpt.
Step 1 is to stay informed, via traditional or social media. NJOEM (www.ready.nj.gov) works closely with the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center regarding storm predictions and forecasts.
The NJOEM website contains a link to New Jersey’s 21 County Offices of Emergency Management with county websites, social media tools and county alert and warning systems listed as well. Sign up, opt-in or connect to receive important local alerts. http://www.ready.nj.gov/about/association.html
Individuals can subscribe to the NJ State Police on Nixle Connect (http://local.nixle.com/new-jersey-state-police). Nixle allows verified government agencies to communicate with the public via text/SMS, email, and internet posts and unlike other social media applications, Nixle does not contain any third-party advertisements.
NJ Alert is a free, voluntary, and confidential emergency alerting system that allows NJOEM officials to send email or text messages to cell phones and other email enabled devices during an emergency event. To sign up for NJ Alert, visit: www.njalert.gov.
Step 2 is to make a plan with family members as to how to stay close and
connected; designate an individual outside of the state to serve as a family point of contact, since after a disaster it is often easier to call out-of-state than within the affected area; after a disaster, all family members should make contact with the designated individual. Try choosing a certain time for everyone to check in.
Step 3 is to gather emergency supplies, many of which can be found around the home. NJOEM’s “Hurricane Kit” includes a 2 week supply of these emergency necessities together with clean-up and repair supplies stored in a safe place.
In addition to basics necessities, residents are advised to gather together important documents such as social security cards, birth certificates, marriage and death records, wills, insurance policies, deeds and mortgages, computer file backups, and personal photographs, as well as important phone numbers and prescriptions.
To download the complete NJ Hurricane Survival Guide, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/njoem/plan/pdf/070214_hurricane_survival_guide.pdf
Additional information can be found on the Princeton Office of Emergency Management web page at www.princetonnj.gov/emerg-mgt.html, and at the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA’s public education site for emergency preparedness, www.ready.gov.
The municipality encourages all residents to register for the Mass Notification System at http://www.princetonnj.gov/ems-phone-register.html, or in person at the municipal clerk’s office in Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street. A list of emergency phone numbers is on the municipal website (princetonnj.gov)
Another CERT training course for Princeton volunteers will take place this fall. For more information, call Robert Gregory of the Department of Emergency and Safety Services, 1 Monument Drive, at (609) 497-7632.