LINCROFT, N.J. – New Jersey’s 21 counties are following the state’s lead in developing hazard mitigation plans that will ensure all of the state’s 565 municipalities will be eligible for federal funding for mitigation projects.
On April 25, 2014, the State of New Jersey’s Hazard Mitigation Plan was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and adopted by Governor Chris Christie. The acceptance of the statewide plan enables governmental entities to apply for federal funding under programs such as: Fire Management Assistance Grants, Public Assistance (Categories C-G), the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program and Flood Mitigation Assistance.
The federal Stafford Act requires state and local governments to develop hazard mitigation plans as a condition for receiving certain types of non-emergency disaster assistance, including mitigation funding. It was amended by the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, which provided a new set of standards for coordinating the development and implementation of mitigation plans at the state and local levels.
With the approval of the state’s plan, the 21 counties in New Jersey must also have plans in place to be eligible for the same sources of funding. All 21 counties either have plans in place or are in the process of updating their plans, FEMA’s Howard Wolf said.
This is the second wave of mitigation plans for the counties. Development of the initial plans under the terms of the Disaster Mitigation Act started in 2003, and the first of those plans were approved in 2008. Hazard mitigation plans are valid for five years.
A total of 19 counties are in the process of updating their original mitigation plans. The state has approved a plan update for Somerset County as well as Ocean County’s very first hazard mitigation plan. Currently, the state is reviewing Burlington County’s plan, and Monmouth County is expected to submit its plan update for state review later in 2014. Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties are still working on updating their plans. To date, 14 counties, funded under DR-4086, will receive a total of $2,212,000 in FEMA funds to update their plans before they expire.
The process of creating a mitigation plan can take up to three years. The county mitigation plans are designed with a strong focus on local conditions and hazards. This information is incorporated into the construction of the state mitigation plan.
There are six goals within the state hazard mitigation plan: Protecting life, protecting property, increasing awareness and preparedness, developing and maintaining an understanding of risks and hazards, enhancing mitigation capabilities to reduce hazard vulnerabilities and supporting continuity of operations. These are recurring themes for past, present and developing county plans. A county plan requires the active participation of its municipalities, and when a plan is approved and adopted, it is posted on the county’s website, usually in an area related to emergency management.
Natural hazards (flooding, coastal erosion, drought, hail, extreme temperatures and even earthquakes) are the focus of New Jersey’s plans. Because of the stark differences in the state’s population density, geography and ecology, the process of risk assessment and identifying natural hazards varies from county to county and community to community. Coastal counties such as Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth have to protect against flooding and storm surge from the Atlantic Ocean. Heavy rains can cause the Delaware River to crest, causing potential problems for Mercer, Hunterdon and Warren counties. Flooding on the Passaic, Raritan and Millstone rivers has caused repeated flooding in Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties. The Pine Barrens and other forested areas are vulnerable to fire. Man-made hazards (pandemic, animal diseases, nuclear accidents) are also included in planning.
Wolf says FEMA’s role in the planning process is mostly advisory. “There is constant communication between FEMA and the state,” he said. “A lot of it is coordination and technical support; responding to changes in legislation and funding.”
“The goal is to have all of the municipalities covered,” Wolf said, a goal that he expects will be reached when all of the counties’ plans are approved.
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