As Hurricane Season Begins, Emergency Personnel Ramp Up Preparations

June 1, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Tropical Storm Irene became the costliest natural disaster in state history. And it now serves as a lesson for the upcoming season down the shore.

It’s hard to forget Gov. Chris Christie’s blunt warning in advance of last summer’s landfall of Tropical Storm Irene: “Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out! You’re done. It’s 4:30, you’ve maximized your tan.”

The wind and rain caused flooding, power outages and a tremendous amount of damage and misery in New Jersey. This year, preparations are being made for a different outcome if the state gets hit by one or more big storms. Coordinators at the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management work year-round to prepare.

Lt. Keith Klements serves as the Deputy Coordinator at the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Klements is keenly aware of his county’s vulnerability, saying “we have 35 miles approximately of beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean. There is a lot out there in harm’s way when we’re talking about a hurricane.”

At the hub for the county’s emergency management team… during hurricanes and storms, coordinators continuously monitor weather advisory maps and work with the 35 shelters in the county to ensure they have all the supplies needed. And now it’s all about preparation…….

So far, nothing has been out of the ordinary for Klements and the OEM team. “We’re doing our normal, reviewing our plans, making sure everything is in place, contacting our municipalities, making sure that we’re talking about sheltering and evacuation and equipment, making sure the equipment is ready.”

The greatest challenge for emergency personnel is making sure residents are informed…….

Christine Casullo, an officer at the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, urges residents to help themselves by preparing a kit with “things like flashlights, water, food [and] any important documents that you would need in case of evacuation.”

Tropical Storm Irene became the costliest natural disaster in state history. So far, $247 million in FEMA assistance has been approved for payment, and it now serves as a lesson for the upcoming season down the shore.

While possible damage to the coastal areas is obvious, Bob Butkus, a domestic preparedness planner, pointed out that many people fail to consider inland flooding. Said Butkus, “What a lot people don’t realize is the inland flooding, which actually is as potentially dangerous as the coastal flooding, lasts longer, so there is more emphasis on that.”

Flooding is an issue inland…. but along the shore…, storm winds are a major threat to homes and businesses.

At the Avon Pavilion restaurant in Avon-by-the-Sea, they take hurricane preparation very seriously. The restaurant is right on the boardwalk and Executive Chef Kenneth Samuels said all it takes is one big storm to wipe out the entire business.

“We go through emergency preparedness situations with my employees,” said Samuels. “It takes us approximately 10 to 12 hours and this entire building is shut down and buttoned up.”

But not everybody takes the danger seriously. Avon-By-The-Sea Borough Administrator Timothy Gallagher said, “The biggest challenge in a beachfront community, especially if there’s a tropical storm or hurricane coming, is that everybody wants to come to the beach to see it.”

Officials throughout the state agree… when it comes to the dangers of hurricanes, …awareness is key. Forecasters predict a normal Atlantic hurricane season this year… with about nine to 15 storms…, and as many as three could become major hurricanes.

Reporting from Avon-by-the-sea, Lauren Wanko has the full story.