TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey is improving its plans to quickly evacuate large sections of the coast for storms or other emergencies.
The Legislature on Monday approved the recommendations of a task force that studies the state's ability to move large numbers of people away from the Jersey shore.
"We look at this as an opportunity to improve our plans, implement lessons learned from Hurricane Irene and other storms and better improve the safety of the public in times of emergency," said Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management.
Plans call for lane reversals on major highways leading away from the shore, protecting critical infrastructure from storm damage, using schools as emergency shelters and setting up a registry of residents who need special help in evacuating.
Some of the recommendations are already in use, including the special needs registry and the emergency traffic flow plans that were used as Hurricane Irene bore down on the state in August.
The plan calls for better communication and standardization of rescue efforts.
The state will create a committee of emergency and health officials to identify elementary and secondary school buildings to serve as temporary shelters during an emergency. The state would have to fund renovation of school buildings that don't meet requirements to serve as shelters and identify buildings that can serve as long-term shelters for people left homeless for up to six months by a disaster or emergency.
Once the bill takes effect, any new school built in New Jersey would have to be able to be used as an emergency shelter.
The bill authorizes state police to work with county emergency management coordinators to implement a lane reversal strategy on the Atlantic City Expressway, the Garden State Parkway and Route 287 during emergencies. That traffic pattern was used on the expressway to evacuate Atlantic City as Hurricane Irene approached, and the effort got generally good marks from law enforcement and residents in terms of being able to move large numbers of people out of harm's way.
The bill also requires counties and municipalities to include in their emergency plans provisions that evaluate the evacuation procedures of hospitals and other health care facilities, alternate sources of care for evacuated patients and proposed sites of temporary shelters for emergencies.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC