CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Logistics: It might just be the key to the region weathering a hurricane, northeaster, blizzard, derecho thunderstorm or just about any other natural disaster.
“Logistics. It’s not just for UPS,” Robert Shaw, assistant commissioner of operations for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said Tuesday at Cape May County’s annual Emergency Preparedness Conference.
This is the seventh year the county has hosted the conference and often a recent storm is the main topic of discussion. Last year it was Hurricane Irene that had brushed the region just weeks prior, leading to a massive evacuation at the shore.
Other than the derecho storm that mostly hit Atlantic County on June 30, the year has been kind of quiet at the shore. It gave speakers time to focus on the nuts and bolts of emergency preparedness. Shaw argues that it is logistics.
“Logistics is managing the flow of resources from one point to another,” Shaw told a room full of people at the free conference.
One of the resources can be people, and the goal is to move them out of harm’s way if a storm is coming. Shaw said NJ Transit has about 1,000 buses ready to go if needed.
“That could be a real logistics effort of its own,” Shaw said.
Logistics could also mean lane reversals leaving the shore, a process called “contra-flow,’’ since that also helps move the people resource leaving the shore. Shaw said the Garden State Parkway from Exit 0 to the Atlantic City Expressway and Route 47/347 from Route 657 to Route 55 would have lane reversals to improve traffic flow out.
He said the DOT has pallets already set up with cones, barricades, signs, barrels and other equipment for the lane changes. They also come with instructions so whoever responds can do the job.
“You get a pallet with the forklift and they’re off. Anybody can pick up that plan and put it in place,” Shaw said.
Logistics can also mean manpower in an emergency. Shaw said he has 1,300 people who can be activated.
“Most are normally in routine maintenance, but they can become emergency responders,” Shaw said.
The DOT is also in charge of the arteries that make logistics works. Shaw said he works with utility companies, police, fire and others to make sure power lines and trees are removed from roadways.
Those roads are kept open so DOT and other responders can move the resources needed, such as generators to run traffic signals, emergency lighting and other storm equipment.
Shaw was one of six speakers at the conference held here at the Cape May County Administration Building in Crest Haven. Capt. Thomas Scardino, of the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management, gave advice to residents along the shore.
“Be prepared to survive on your own for 72 hours. Make a plan and have a kit,” said Scardino.
He said New Jersey OEM breaks up the state into two regions, north and south. The north has 299 municipalities and the south has 267. All told, there are 8.5 million people responders have to worry about.
Scardino said even response units, such as the 215-member Urban Search and Response Unit, carries enough supplies for survival for 72 hours.
“What you can do is be prepared,” said Scardino.
Storms often come with little warning, said meteorologist Dan Skeldon, another speaker. Unlike hurricanes, Skeldon said the derecho storm came with little warning. He said a thunderstorm warning was issued 30 minutes before it hit with 110 mph winds. He said it was the same warming that is issued for much smaller storms.
“We’re considering tier warnings for thunderstorms,” he said.
The public had an opportunity to ask questions.
Phil Cooper, of Avalon, wanted to know if somebody was keeping track of seniors being evacuated. County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Pagliughi said a database is being worked out to log them in when they leave their homes, arrive at a shelter and return home.
Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton noted that the county has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the state with 23 percent of the population 65 or older.
“In Irene we evacuated all long-term care facilities, nursing home and assisted-living facilities in Cape May County. We moved all these frail elderly without one injury,” said Thornton.
The effort was, no doubt, helped by logistics.
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