EXPLAINED: State Of Emergency, all you need to know

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has been taking a lot of heat this winter for his constant “state of emergency” declarations during storms that in previous years barely received any attention, let alone such declarations.

But what exactly is a state of emergency? How does it effect state residents? And what does it accomplish?

The following attempts to explain what exactly a State of Emergency is, with answers to your most frequently asked questions and hopefully will clarify what a State of Emergency means to you.

What is a state of emergency?

New Jersey State law allows the Governor, County and Local Emergency Management Coordinators to declare a State of Emergency during significant weather events and natural disasters or when the governor believes a disaster has occurred or may be imminent that is severe enough to require State aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering. 

The emergency declaration is a tool used by the government officials who are managing the emergency and allows State agencies to quickly respond to the needs of citizens, reassign personnel, and deploy vehicles, trucks, and equipment to respond to the incident.

A State of Emergency allows the government to act more quickly than it can during non-emergency times and enables the governor to make resources immediately available to rescue, evacuate, shelter, provide essential commodities (i.e., heating fuel, food etc.) and quell disturbances in affected localities.

What happens?

The declaration empowers the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM) to act on behalf of the Governor to employ the resources and assets of State, local and private agencies to provide immediate assistance to localities. Typically, the New Jersey State Police, National Guard, and departments of Environmental Protection, Transportation and Health are called upon rather quickly to respond to the event, and other departments are added as needed.

After the Governor issues the declaration, NJOEM puts the State Emergency Operations Plan into effect. It may also activate the State Emergency Operations Center to full 24-hour staffing to coordinate and direct State response and recovery operations. In addition, NJOEM may call on a number of private agencies such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) network to fulfill critical missions. The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) often provides backup emergency communications and the Civil Air Patrol may assist in search and rescue missions.

What does this mean to you?

When a State of Emergency is issued, State and/or local Emergency Management officials will communicate with New Jersey’s citizens through traditional media outlets such as television, radio and newspapers, and through other information channels, such as the internet, social media or the Emergency Alert System.

Does it include a travel ban?

At times, travel restrictions are part of a State of Emergency. This is typically done to allow snowplows to clear the roads. At other times government offices may be closed, or evacuations may be recommended.

But local and county officials can issue their own emergency declarations that include restrictions on movement for public safety reasons.

A State of Emergency also permits government officials to recommend specific actions that citizens should take to ensure the safety of their families and homes during the emergency.

Note: Each emergency is different, and different factors will impact the decisions made by State officials in response to the incident.

A state of emergency declaration allows private businesses to make informed decisions about early closures, delayed openings, cancellations and closures based on current and impending weather conditions, emergency plans and policies of your organization, designation of essential employees, and restrictions on travel. If travel restrictions are put into place, it will limit whether or not employees can travel to your work site.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management does not make decisions regarding school delayed openings, dismissals, or closures due to weather.

A state of emergency does not automatically shut state offices, but the governor often orders them closed or delays their opening by a few hours.

Is there federal financial assistance for individuals?

Municipalities and counties can receive federal assistance through a process that begins with a preliminary damage assessment immediately after an emergency and later requires a disaster declaration by the president. Some individuals and families may also be eligible for assistance should a presidential disaster declaration be issued.

New Jersey received $73 million in federal assistance following a January 2016 storm that dumped more than 2 feet on snow on North Jersey.

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