It’s Hurricane Season: What’s Your Plan?

Sep 13, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

As Florida braced for Hurricane Irma last weekend, Texas and Louisiana continued to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Harvey, which left a trail of destruction in its path after making landfall last month. On Long Beach Island, the skies were blue with white, marshmallow clouds, and a cool breeze smelled of fall. Strong rip currents in the Atlantic in an otherwise calm ocean were the only signs of hurricane season six-miles-at-sea.

As hard as it is to imagine any catastrophic natural disaster from occurring under last weekend’s nearly perfect conditions, it’s the exact time when you should be thinking, planning and acting, according to John Kirwin, deputy coordinator of the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management.

“Take the time to do it now,” Kirwin said of making an emergency preparedness plan with family or friends. “It should be done on blue-sky days,” not when storms are days or hours away from making landfall. Too often, he said, people wait until a storm is brewing before they begin to think, act or plan for it.

Kirwin said his office tracks all storms daily in the office, “even on our days off” so when they issue their recommendations they’ve taken everything into consideration.

“When a watch is issued it means the conditions are likely to happen,” he explained. “A warning means it’s going to happen.”

Once tropical storm-force winds arrive, all rescue operations are suspended, helicopters are grounded, and all first-responders hunker down for their own safety, he said, adding, “Decide early if you’re going to evacuate, and plan ahead of time where you’re going to go. Any barrier island is going to be evacuated” depending on the situation.

Earlier this year during a nor’easter, he noted, Barnegat Township issued an evacuation of its bayside residential area due to the potential for back-bay flooding that would cut residents off from the rest of the township until the water receded. An evacuation order will be issued at least 24 hours ahead of time to give residents enough time to bug out, Kirwin said, noting hurricanes are not the only threats in Ocean County.

“The nor’easter of Christmas 2010 dumped so much snow I was stuck in my house for a week,” he said. “Planning should be all encompassing.”

When you’re making an emergency preparedness plan for you and your family or friends, there are a lot of things to consider, such as who should be involved; whether different levels need to be included based on the emergency event; contact information for local, county, and state police as well as doctors and veterinarians; knowing your evacuation route, and where the shelter is located. If you don’t know where your shelter is, take a dry run to the location ahead of any emergency situation, and remember it will take longer to get there during a storm. If your plan is to stay at a hotel, make sure to make reservations as soon as possible, and have a back-up plan just in case.

“Plan for your pets,” Kirwin said. “We don’t want you leaving them behind. And have a plan for anyone with access or functional needs (issues).”

The state of New Jersey offers the “Register Ready” program for anyone with special needs during a disaster, he said. It replaced the We Care Program. It’s free, voluntary and confidential, Kirwin said. The program allows residents with access or functional needs and their families, friends or caregivers to provide information to emergency response agencies so they are included in the county’s plans, he said.

“Plan now,” Kirwin urged. “You may not have a chance” during a storm or other emergency event.

Basic preparedness gear should include: enough food for a week (including pet food), bottled water, unscented chlorine bleach for disinfecting water, battery-operated or crank radio, non-electric cell phone chargers, a whistle to alert rescuers of your location, a manual can opener for non-perishable food, extra medication for seven days, and a first-aid kit. Clothes, pillows and blankets should also be included as well as anything necessary for infants, toddlers, and the elderly.

“Practice your plan,” he said, noting everyone should have a place to go during an emergency. “A shelter isn’t a luxury.”

Kirwin, who came to work for the county OEM after Superstorm Sandy, said the best resources for trusted information about any potentially hazardous storm or event are local law enforcement, the local radio stations, and the Ocean County Sheriff Office app.  It keeps sensationalism and speculation at bay, he said.

Gina G. Scala

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