By Alison Arne
When Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey in 2011, my family evacuated from Western Atlantic County. Because we lived inland, it came as a complete surprise when, in the middle of the night, first responders knocked on the door. They told us that we didn’t have to go, but at a certain point no one would be able to come in for rescues. We left in a produce truck, with our cat in tow. As we were pulling out of our neighborhood the fire department’s boat was coming in. A local church took all of us in and was incredible. A diner provided us with meals until the all clear was given that flood waters had receded.
In 2012, when Sandy was approaching we were living on a barrier island and we knew we would have to evacuate. We were able to make an evacuation plan. Our neighbors that were riding out the storm were able to stock up on supplies and come together to help each other out after the storm. And as hard as it was, we made it through.
Those were pre-pandemic days. Over the last 8 years, flooding has become more frequent and storms have become more severe. We had two named storms before the official start of hurricane season on June first.
Three years ago Dr. Rachel Cleetus from Union of Concerned Scientists joined us for an online teach-in to talk about NJ’s vulnerability and the need for the state, especially coastal towns to adapt and mitigate so that we can be better prepared for future storms. Check out opens in a new windowDr. Cleetus’ article here to read more about the pandemic moment we’re in combined with the forecast of a more severe hurricane season. Her colleague, Shana Udvardy joined us at our 2018 Convention to dive a little deeper into NJ’s needs and this year opens in a new windowwrote about the need for Congress to invest in pre-disaster mitigation so that our communities are safe from severe storms.
Which brings me back to – what could this storm season look like? Back in 2012 we evacuated to a parent’s home. Now with COVID we wouldn’t dream of potentially bringing the virus to a home where someone is more vulnerable. But how do we socially distance in evacuation centers and what will that mean for capacity at centers? Would people be turned away when most in need for safe shelter? How would we stock up on supplies when the entire country has been under disaster declaration?
We have seen just how much reform is needed in disaster recovery systems. From Flood Insurance, to giving out aid to making sure our homes and communities are stronger before the next storm hits – there is work to do. Now that we are also struggling to keep up during COVID, FEMA is stretched thin. We have had hurricanes and wildfires across the country and now a pandemic.
Think about how hard we had to fight for rental and mortgage assistance after Sandy. And we’re fighting for the same thing now for people impacted by COVID-19 and the economic fallout. We still have so far to go to make sure our homes and communities are better prepared for coming storms, now more than ever we need to stand up and speak out.
We need a strong offense and a strong defense. We go on offense and make sure we have renewable energy like offshore wind to slow sea level rise and the frequency and intensity of storms. And we need to have a good defense – New Jersey isn’t just the home of 130 miles of beautiful coastline, it’s the home of over 9 rivers. These rivers not only give us some of the most pristine parks, views and trails across the nation, they’re the lifeline of our agricultural communities. And those lifelines flood just as often as the backbays do. Mitigating and adapting homes and infrastructure aren’t just ways to protect the shore, they’re ways to protect our entire state.
If you would like to join the work to make sure we have offshore wind that works for our communities and that we are protected from frequent floods and future storms, opens in a new windowsign our pledge and share with friends.