Sandy changed county, local disaster planning

Staff Writer

The Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has released a draft of its Hazard Mitigation Plan, which identifies projects that would make the county’s 53 municipalities less vulnerable to storms and natural disasters.

According to county OEM Director Michael Oppegaard, the Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan updates the 2009 plan.

“The mitigation strategies that have been identified here are based on lessons learned or actual witnessing of what a large, powerful storm can do to us here in Monmouth,” he said.

“It is definitely much more comprehensive, more detailed and kind of lays the framework for moving forward on strengthening and hardening our communities.”

The plan, which is a federal requirement under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, was completed by each of the 53 municipalities and aggregated by the county.

The plan contains appendices that include the status of past mitigation projects; historic and public infrastructure and assets; municipal risks in the case of different natural disasters; and new action projects identified.

The hazard mitigation plans for each municipality are contained in an Action Plan appendix. Examples of new mitigation projects include elevation and replacement of the bulkhead in Keyport; improved stormwater drainage in Long Branch; riparian buffers along rivers and streams in Middletown; and rehabilitation and completion of the seawall in Sea Bright.

Most municipalities listed approximately eight to 10 projects in the plan, plus an estimated cost, priority level and potential outside funding source.

According to the plan, the county is susceptible to several types of natural disasters.

“Each hazard event has the potential to cause property loss, loss of life, economic hardship, and threats to public health and safety,” the plan states. “The time and money required to recover from these events often strain or exhaust local resources.”

The plan identifies 35 natural disasters that have impacted the state between 1954 and 2014, including superstorm Sandy in 2012, Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and a blizzard in 2010.

According to Oppegaard, if a municipality failed to submit a hazard mitigation plan, it would be ineligible for predisaster and post-disaster funding.

“What the approved plan allows municipalities to do is to apply for pre- or postdisaster hazard mitigation funding to address projects or strategies that they’ve identified in the plan,” he said. “Without the plan, they can’t apply for the federal funding.”

While the majority of the plan involves individual municipalities, Oppegaard said the county has also provided input about its own infrastructure, including flood-control measures for county bridges and roads, as well as regional projects like stormwater management plans.

“Although the local jurisdictions know exactly what is good for their community, a lot of these measures affect multiple communities,” he said.

Oppegaard said one of the main distinctions between the current rough draft and the 2009 approved plan is that in 2009 many of the projects targeted involved individual properties or small clusters targeted for mitigation work.

In the new plan, many of the projects identified are for community-wide improvements.

Oppegaard said an example of that concept is raising the height of the bulkhead throughout Sea Bright, which is identified in the plan.

“A project like that in that particular community is not a benefit to one or two houses; it is a benefit to a whole community,” he said.

“I think that is one of the biggest things that came out of Sandy and is recognized in this plan, is that it is more of a whole community approach to solving some of the issues that come about from these natural disasters.”

This is a culmination of more than two years of efforts by each of the county’s 53 municipalities, as well as a countyappointed steering committee.

The rough draft was first posted on Oct. 21 and there is a 28-day public comment period. Comments can be made online at

Comments submitted will be channeled to the appropriate municipalities for review.

The final plan must be formally adopted by the county and all 53 municipalities.

Oppegaard said he expects the plan to be adopted by March.

Both the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s comments and input have been incorporated into the plan.

The benefits of submitting such plans, he said, include aligning responses by the municipalities with county, state and federal agencies.

“That is our goal every day when it comes to all the aspects of emergency management — that we are all in the same book and on the same page for these things,” Oppegaard said. “It is critical that we are all in the same game on this.”