Municipal Response Operations
published in the NJ League of Municipalities Magazine,
1992, New Jersey has received 12 Presidential Disaster
Declarations. Within the 12-month period between September
1999 and August 2000, over one-half of New Jersey’s
counties received Presidential Disaster Declarations
due to flooding. This is the first in a series of articles
designed to offer public officials management guidance
for the post-disaster environment. Future articles will
address the specifics of disaster relief, emergency
planning, and reducing disaster-related economic losses.
As a municipal official, you can never be sure when
disaster will strike; but when it does, you can depend
on any number of grim scenarios affecting your community.
There may be power outages, compromised water distribution
systems, streets lined with debris or raw sewage, infrastructure
damage, overloaded telephone and emergency communications
systems, severely damaged homes, significant impacts
on the municipal budget, and municipal property damage.
There will be angry, confused, frightened and possibly,
displaced community members with never-ending lists
of losses. One compelling visual image of the incident
can capture local and national media attention and attract
sightseers to your community weeks to come.
You will tour this bleak landscape with county officials,
state officials, federal officials, state legislators,
congressional representatives and senators. You will
answer endless media questions about economic impacts,
the community's response, and what caused the incident.
You will live through the most challenging and possibly,
the most rewarding moments of your public service career.
You will experience the best and the worst of your town's
residents, its career employees and its municipal volunteers.
Despite these seemingly overwhelming obstacles, your
community can survive, recover, and eventually thrive
when disaster strikes. But you’ve got to know
“how.” The key concept is emergency management.
It's a process that starts when the wind is calm and
long before the water begins to rise.
The NJ State Police Office of Emergency Management
(NJOEM) oversees emergency management activities statewide.
Headquartered in West Trenton, with field offices in
Totowa, Edison and Buena, NJOEM programs closely model
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 4-phase
disaster cycle of mitigation, preparedness, response
and recovery. It offers on-scene support, technical
assistance, program guidance, free professional training
programs, and limited financial aid to each of the state’s
21 counties and 566 municipalities.
successful emergency management program needs municipal
leaders to support it during all phases,” explains
Captain Kevin J. Hayden, Deputy State Director of the
NJOEM. “The process starts when qualified individuals
are appointed as municipal Emergency Management Coordinators
and Local Emergency Planning Committee members. Then,
give emergency management personnel the time and authority
they need to work together to develop and exercise emergency
State law (App. A: 9-33 et. seq.) requires the appointment
of county and municipal emergency management coordinators,
and the development of local emergency operations plans
in accordance with State guidelines. NJOEM staff members
interact with county and local emergency management
officials on a regular basis.
officials should learn the basic language of emergency
management – terms such as state of emergency,
emergency declaration, and disaster declaration
are often used interchangeably; but in reality they
have different meanings,” Hayden adds.
A “state of local disaster emergency”
(App. 9-40.5) can be declared locally by the emergency
management coordinator. This decision should be made
with the advice and consent of the chief elected official.
A “state of local disaster emergency” enables
the municipality to issue and enforce orders and procedures
necessary to protect the health and safety of the public
– travel or parking bans, for example.
The terms “emergency declaration”
and “disaster declaration” are
designations for specific jurisdictions (usually counties),
if they become eligible for federal disaster assistance.
All requests for federal disaster assistance are made
to and must be approved by the President. They are prepared
by the NJOEM using information provided by municipal
and county OEM's; then transmitted to Washington through
the Governor’s Office, FEMA Region II, and FEMA
Emergency Operations Plans should address
how the municipality will respond to the disaster; and
how it intends to meet the disaster-related needs of
individuals and the community-at-large. Managing local
government operations after a disaster requires concurrent
attention to both long-term and short-term recovery,
which can be challenging.
In the short-term, citizens often need
water, food, clothing, housing, or other essentials
and they’ll need it right away. In order to deliver
these resources when needed, your community should establish
partnerships with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, local
vendors, faith-based organizations, and civic leaders.
These partnerships should be developed during the emergency
planning process. Include all community members’
needs in your EOP, especially non-English speaking persons,
seniors and persons with disabilities who may need evacuation
assistance. Your community is likely to be on its own,
or receive only limited assistance for the first 72
hours after the disaster, until major resources from
national organizations arrive.
Residents will often demand long-term recovery
solutions immediately after the event, such as acquisitions
(“buy-outs”) or elevation projects. Long-term
recovery involves careful and considered decisions about
future land use, which affect the landscape of your
community for generations to come.
Federal disaster relief programs are
set up into two general categories – Public
Assistance (to political jurisdictions) and
Individual Assistance (to individuals
and families). Since 1992, nearly $204 million in federal
disaster relief has been issued to New Jersey residents
and communities. That excludes U.S. Small Business Administration
Loans, insured flood losses, and other non-grant forms
of assistance, which increases this amount by hundreds
of millions dollars.
Most federal assistance to individuals and families
falls into the loan category, so homeowners
and renters should be make sure they are covered by
the proper type and amount of insurance, even if they
live outside the floodplain. After a flood, thirty-percent
of claims for disaster assistance are from individuals
residing outside designated floodplain areas.
Local government will be residents' first call for help
until State and FEMA officials arrive. Cooperation with
NJOEM Rapid Response Team members during damage assessment
will enhance the NJOEM's ability to collect the information
needed to apply for federal disaster relief. Communicate
with residents in all ways possible about the impact
of the disaster, and steps the community is taking to
help them. Use every communications outlet including
media, community, civic and religious leaders, to offer
information about where residents can get help.
that have recovered successfully from disasters share
a common characteristic -- local officials put aside
turf issues, and acted as a town, not as individual
departments, to resolve what had to be done. Disaster
response demands coordinated, team-based participation
from every municipal function, it is not limited to
emergency services. Mayors and administrators who set
this tone during the planning process will lead successful
response and recovery operations when disaster strikes