TOMS RIVER – As Ocean County gears up to renew its Multi-Jurisdictional All-Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2019, two kick-off meetings were held on May 31 – in Toms River and Manahawkin – for local officials to learn about the process and provide feedback about specific hazards affecting their towns.
The meetings were run by Sarah Bowen of Michael Baker, the engineering firm tasked with developing the county’s new hazard plan. The firm also assisted the county with its plan back in 2014. Bowen said they are off to an early start. The plan needs to be updated every five years, and Ocean County is on track to have theirs ready by 2018.
Every county is required by law to have a hazard plan in place by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which has been in effect since 1988.
Hazard mitigation is simply an effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. A plan must be put place in order to access grants and reduce a town’s vulnerability in the event of a disaster. According to Bowen’s presentation, New Jersey has had a total of 37 major disaster declarations, and Ocean County alone has declared about half of that – 18.
Bowen talked through some of the hazards that were considered for the 2014 Multi-Jurisdictional All-Hazard Mitigation Plan, but ultimately were not included. One of the hazards considered at that time was terrorism, which they felt was adequately addressed in the county’s Homeland Security Strategic Plan. But because of a terrorist bombing at the Seaside Park Semper Five charity run in 2016, terrorism will now be included in the updated plan.
Some other hazards deemed to be of minimal threat to Ocean County communities in the 2014 plan included lighting strikes, landslides, fishing failures, sinkholes, civil unrest and animal disease.
Municipalities will be emailed a copy of their completed 2014 survey that asked them to identify which hazards were most significant to their communities. Bowen said they can either add to that survey and cross out old information, or start a new survey from scratch.
She and her Michael Baker colleagues plan to sit in at least one municipal meeting in all 33 Ocean County towns this fall. They want to hear from not just mayors and councilmembers – but also planners, code enforcers, public works departments, flood plan administrators and emergency personnel before putting a draft plan together for next spring. After that, towns will be able to comment and make suggestions on the plan before it’s turned into the state and FEMA for review.