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NJ.com: by Deborah P. Scanlon, Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

March 28, 2011

When disaster strikes, Union County residents can be relied on to respond, and many are reaching out to help in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy also compels us to take stock of our emergency preparedness here at home.

The twin natural disasters in Japan have been compounded immensely by a man-made factor, the damage to a nuclear power plant. While Union County does not host nuclear energy, we are home to an infrastructure that can add significant complications to disaster response.

Union County’s coastline is packed with fuel and chemical facilities. We are an international transportation hub with a major seaport, airports, and vital interstate roadways, and we are one of the most densely populated counties in the most densely populated state in America.

For these reasons, emergency preparedness has long been a top priority for the Freeholder Board. We have diligently pursued federal and state grants to step up our efforts, including a new bomb squad vehicle, patrol boats, hazmat equipment, and advanced communications.

These are local solutions, but where nuclear accidents are concerned the potential impact ripples far beyond local borders. In the interests of long term security, our nation must transition to lower-risk sources of energy.

New Jersey has already started this transition, with the planned decommissioning of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant. This facility has been of particular concern to the many Union County residents with ties to the Barnegat Bay area. Aside from emergency response, environmental issues at the facility include harm to aquatic life in the bay, and the potential for groundwater contamination.

Another area of transition is New Jersey’s inclusion in the Atlantic Wind Consortium. This is an initiative of the Obama administration to develop offshore wind power. Two other Obama administration initiatives will provide another push in the direction.

These are the development of a national “smart grid” and advanced energy storage, which will enable New Jersey to receive and store more solar and wind energy from other states. Federal agencies, notably the Department of Defense, are also starting to tap into our nation’s vast geothermal resources.

On the local level, the Freeholder Board’s new Solar Energy Program has enabled many public entities in Union County to arrange for low cost solar installations. Utilities and businesses have also been aggressively installing solar power. Weatherization, smart meters, and new energy efficient technology will come into play, too.

Energy is vital when a natural disaster strikes, to bring in rescue teams and supplies, to power medical equipment, to evacuate survivors, and to shelter those left homeless. We must plan for a future in which energy provides us with the power to respond quickly and effectively, instead of creating the potential to make a terrible situation even worse.

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