Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Counties could get millions for disaster prep under Sweeney bill

Areas hardest hit by disasters such as Superstorm Sandy would be eligible for millions in grants to help prepare for the next big storm under a bill proposed Monday by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and other lawmakers.

The measure has not been introduced yet and does not have a price tag or funding source. Sweeney said if the bill becomes law, it would create a planning process that would be addressed in the next state budget cycle.

Ultimately he said the bill would earmark funds for county emergency management officials to plan for such contingencies as two-year-plans, public outreach, emergency shelters, supplies or communications systems such as reverse 911.

The measure, a copy of which was not immediately available, did not specify which counties would receive the grants. A press release stated that it would be based upon need.

Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a co-sponsor, said counties already plan for such catastrophes but that when Sandy hit in October 2012 the aftermath demonstrated the need for more planning.

“I think the key to this is being prepared for the next storm,” said Vitale, D-Middlesex who spoke of how hard some towns in his district such as Sayreville and Perth Amboy were hit by surging bay water.

“Those towns were prepared,” Vitale said. “But for many of them it was the first time seeing something that was so awesome and so damaging and so much destruction.”

Several county officials also spoke in favor of the proposal.

“Atlantic County has suffered significantly like the other coastal counties,” said Frank Formica, an Atlantic County freeholder. “This legislation is not only logical it is welcomed and we can definitely use the money for the planning.”

Other co-sponsors of the proposed bill include Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge and Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean.

Monday’s news conference at the State House in Trenton came four days after Gov. Chris Christie announced a matching grant program for towns in the nine counties most affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Those funds would enable local governments to be reimbursed for the money they spent as their local share in order to obtain funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for work done in the aftermath of the storm.

Sweeney welcomed Christie’s announcement and said those funds are greatly needed.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean began on June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Irene making landfall in New Jersey on Aug. 28, 2011.

Irene produced torrential rains that led to major flooding and surges of 3-5 feet along the New Jersey shore. According to the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist, the threat of Irene’s strong winds and a significant storm surge necessitated the largest coastal evacuation in the state’s history.

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Constituent Corner-                      Code Blue Programs Assist Residents in Need of Shelter

The Code Blue Initiative is designed to provide shelter for homeless individuals and residents without sufficient accommodations when temperatures drop below freezing. The Code Blue Season runs from November 1st through April 15th, with designated “warming centers” operating between 6:00 pm and 6:00 am.
When a Code Blue alert is issued, volunteers collaborate with police, emergency medical services, the County Health Department and Human Services, and the state Office of Emergency Management to prepare warming centers and identify individuals who may be in need of shelter.
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