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“Evacuation route” What do these signs mean?

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  • Robert Crifasi
    I know you ve seen these signs but do you know what they mean? I didn t untill I read this. It s old but it still applies. Share this with your family and
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2006
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      I know you've seen these signs but do you know what they mean? I didn't untill I read this. It's old but it still applies. Share this with your family and friends.

      BoB Crifasi

      =====================================

      This way out: Finding direction in dire emergency

      Wednesday, February 22, 2006

      By CHRIS SAGONA
      of The Montclair Times


      Evacuation Route signs thread traffic westbound on Bloomfield Ave. Staff photo by Adam Anik.
      Does a sign give direction if no one knows what it means?

      A blue sign with a white arrow hangs suspended on a traffic-signal gantry over Bloomfield Avenue in the township. The sign's only explanatory words are "Evacuation route."

      But evacuate from what? A hurricane? A nuclear disaster?

      And evacuate to where? Is the destination some underground hideaway?

      And who is it exactly who wants everyone in Montclair to follow a white arrow up a hill on Bloomfield Avenue to a mystery location?

      "We placed the sign there," said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, the county's coordinator for emergency management.

      The Essex County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is in charge of training the emergency responders who will be directing the public, providing emergency mutual aid, and deciding when and how to order an evacuation in the case of emergency.

      "The sign on Bloomfield Avenue is a part of our emergency evacuation plan, which has been approved by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management," said Fontoura. "Every municipality has a plan."

      Essex County received $10,000 from a state police grant last year to erect the signs.

      But where exactly does the arrow point?

      "West, basically," Fontoura said. "Whether it's because of natural disaster, hurricane, a chemical spill or terrorist attack, we want people heading west because you get to higher ground, and when you get past the first set of mountains you're provided with a [buffer], and the second gives protection too."

      There is no specific destination, said Fontoura, noting the OEM prefers not to give out specific locations until encountering an actual emergency.

      "You'll follow the signs in the direction posted, and along the way there will be other signs," said Fontoura. "All of the main thoroughfares in all municipalities have directional signs. Somewhere along the way there will be emergency personnel, such as a police officer, firefighter or an emergency volunteer, telling you where you should go, depending on what type of emergency it is."

      Shelter locations are scattered, but many are schools, he said.

      "We learned from Katrina," said Fontoura. "People were directed to one place. And it ended up being that there were far too many people there. Keeping in mind how densely populated New Jersey is, we are very conscious of the fact we don't want everyone ending up in traffic if there is an evacuation."

      Although the Essex County Sheriff's Office is in charge of the county's emergency planning, management directives come from the state OEM, which in turn is under the federal OEM.

      Mike Augustina of the State Police Headquarters for the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, said the state OEM workers call the directional signs "blue dots."

      Augustina said it's frustrating to realize people may not be aware of the signs' purpose.

      "We spend a considerable amount of time assisting counties with public warnings," said Augustina. "They need to know how they get the warning and what to do. We are very proud of a Web site [www.stormready.noaa.gov] we have for our StormReady Program and wish people would check it out."

      Augustina said that in an emergency it would be a knee-jerk reaction to simply follow the signs without being directed to do so.

      "Suppose there is a chemical spill," said Augustina. "We might tell people to stay in their homes and close their windows. Going for the escape route could be the worse thing to do in case of something in the air that you don't want people exposed to."

      Under the direction of the Essex County OEM, Montclair's Office of Emergency Management is headed up by Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Allen. Coordinators include Deputy Fire Chief Jarvis Hawley, Police Lt. Ken Miscia, and Township Manager Joseph Hartnett. The Township's Emergency Response Plan, a manual the thickness of three telephone books, is kept in the Municipal Building, 205 Claremont Ave., and lists specific duties assigned to the Fire and Police departments in addition to the Montclair Volunteer Ambulance Unit and the Health Department.

      For example, the Fire Department is in charge of helping with the evacuation of those who are disabled, in addition to fire and rescue, emergency lighting, and damage assessment.

      The funding for the Montclair OEM comes from a Municipal Homeland Security Police Assistant Aid Grant, Hartnett said.

      "You won't find any extraneous expenditures in our records like you hear about in some towns," said Hartnett. "Everything is accounted for, right down to the penny."

      This year's grant of $140,000 was used for a new emergency dispatch center, OEM training and emergency first aid supplies, Hartnett said.

      Montclair Health Department Educator Erica Abbruzzese said that the Health Department would be the responsible party in a scenario where the evacuation was a result of a bioterrorism attack or disease.

      "We also become involved if there's a public health impact as a result of people leaving," she said. "An extended evacuation can bring disease. We've conducted tabletop exercises to prepare for such emergencies along with police, fire and the American Red Cross."

      Abbruzzese said the most important part of a tabletop exercise is learning afterward what needs to be improved.

      "The big-term use in emergency training now is `notionalize,' which is taking note of what we should have done differently," she said. "We realized, for example, that when there's a communicable disease out there, or an act of terrorism, we may not know at first. We learned from [Montclair Police Detective] Lt. James Carlucci to ask even more detailed questions so that we can better track how and where the person may have contracted the disease."

      Abbruzzese said if the Health Department had an emergency message for residents, then it would be announced in a press conference, by radio, through reverse 911 calls, and would be posted on Montclair's Web site, www.to.montclair.nj.us.

      "What you need to keep on hand in case of emergency may seem quite obvious, but we get a lot of phone calls asking about that," she said. "So obviously people need to know. We tell them to have ready a family kit: water for three days, a flashlight, batteries, and a radio."

      It's also important to have a family plan, she said.

      "Have a family member outside of the state who is designated as sort of a bulletin board in case you are separated from family members while evacuating," Abbruzzese said. "With Katrina, we saw that in-state telephone lines were unavailable, but people could call out of state. If you choose one person ahead of time, that person can act as a sort of bulletin board and communicate to your extended family, who then can relay back to you where everyone is. You should also write down important phone numbers, including a pharmacy and your children's school or day care numbers. Make sure you have all the numbers together and make sure the contact person has them."

      Abbruzzese noted the Web site, www.njhomelandsecurity.gov, offers further instructions for evacuation and emergency preparedness and family kits.

      "It's in English and Spanish, and it states in layman's terms what we should all have handy," she said.

      No matter what the scenario of an evacuation, the goal is restoring life to normal as quickly as possible, said Augustina. What he most wishes people would do is to take a look at the town's emergency plan and come up with a personal plan for the family in the case of evacuation.

      "There have been kids who have done this in their schools," said Augustina, "And they've actually in some cases done a better job than the schools in making sure that everyone knows what to do. So really, all of us should be doing that … what would happen if an emergency happened here and now … no matter who you are or where you are. Are you really ready?"

      For further information visit the Web sites www.state.nj.us./njoem, or www.stormready.noaa.gov, or www.njhomelandsecurity.gov

      Contact Chris Sagona at sagona@...

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