Disaster Drill Helps Officials Prepare for Category 4 Hurricane

By Christie Duffy

It’s the first drill of this magnitude ever in Morris County. More than 100 responders are reacting to Hurricane Jack — a fake Category 4 storm.

“This exercise, it’s not an Irene, it’s not a Sandy — it’s worse. We wanted to be tested,” said Morris County Director of Emergency Management Jeff Paul.

Whole neighborhoods in Morris County flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. Sandy’s high winds knocked out trees and power across the county, including at the old emergency management center.

“We had an issue with the generator, which caused the battery backup to be used at the emergency management center. Now there are triple redundancies within this building so that will never happen again,” said Morris County Freeholder Doug Cabana.

Morris County’s new 39,000-square-foot emergency management building was built to withstand a storm four times the strength of Superstorm Sandy.

“Solid concrete building that has been reinforced. There are security bollards placed around the building. So it makes it almost impenetrable,” Cabana said.

This building was completed in October 2013, about a year after Sandy. It cost $23 million to put it together.

Officials say federal funding helped to pay for it, stating it symbolizes Morris County’s investment in being prepared for any future disaster.

“Shelters that are open within the community,” Paul said.

The OEM director is pointing to giant screens at the front of the room that show maps of the fake storm. They are reacting to fictitious disasters like flooding, building collapses, mass evacuations or injuries.

The people training for such disaster includes everyone from police, fire and EMS to animal rescue and Jersey Central Power & Light.

“We feel very strongly that our level of preparedness has to be as new and innovative as this building,” Paul said. “You know we experienced Hurricane Sandy, we learned so much from it. Our after actions have been continuing for the past couple of years. And now we’re in a situation where we’re live drilling in a functional way, how we would deal with something much worse than Sandy.”

When the next disaster hits, Morris County plans to be ready.