Time for full-time OEM coordinator. Council takes steps to create Office of Emergency Preparedness

Time for full-time OEM coordinator

Council takes steps to create Office of Emergency Preparedness
11/06/2005  Hoboken Reporter 

The City Council discussed, at their meeting Wednesday night, hiring a full-time emergency management coordinator for the city.

Presently, the job is part-time. The OEM coordinator is Police Capt. James Fitzsimmons, who also heads internal affairs. He is paid a $10,000 stipend for the extra job. The Deputy OEM coordinator is Joel Mestre, who is also the city's zoning officer. He is paid $5,000 for the additional duty.

It is expected that at the Nov. 14 meeting, the City Council will introduce an ordinance to set the new salary range for the "deputy OEM coordinator" at around $70,000.

That person would still technically serve under Fitzsimmons, but that person would be full-time.

Because they must notify city employees first, the council can't announce yet who will fill the new position, but according to sources close to the council, Mestre will likely become the full-time deputy OEM.

If Mestre moves to the new position, then someone would have to be hired as the city's zoning officer.

By law, the current OEM coordinator has to finish out his five-year term, so even if Mestre is selected for the full-time position, Fitzsimmons will remain the OEM coordinator and continue to receive his stipend. He has about four more years left in his term, according to the city's attorney Joseph Sherman.

Wednesday night, Councilmember Ruben Ramos Jr. said that in a post-9/11 reality, with the threat of terrorism and natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding, it's time to have a full-time employee coordinating the city's preparation.

"I think that we all agree that this warrants a full-time position," Ramos said.

So what will he do?

Last week, Mayor David Roberts announced his plan to create the Office of Emergency Preparedness. The new office will be a proactive entity charged with preparing for a whole array of different disasters.

Mestre, the mayor, and community leaders have been meeting to put together the framework for the new office. One goal will be to install a citywide Public Announcement system. According to Mestre, there are relatively affordable solar powered systems that could be installed around the city to keep residents informed.

The deputy OEM coordinator will oversee the production of a kit for all Hoboken households that will inform residents of what to do in case of a disaster. It will list important phone numbers, inform residents of evacuation routes, and give tips on how families can prepare for the worst.

The enhanced deputy OEM duties will also include creating a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to educate people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, and train them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an emergency.

The city has named Hoboken community activist Janet Larson to be the citizen liaison to the Office of Community Preparedness. She will aid the city in enlisting volunteers for the CERT program.

Coordinating communications

Ramos suggested that the new deputy coordinate with the Hoboken High cable channel and Cablevision's Public Access channel so that they might be used to keep the community informed. Also, Ramos suggested, the new office could create a phone notification system where the city can call, quickly, key community members to help organize a response during an emergency. "It would be like a reverse 911," Ramos said.

Also, the Office of Emergency Preparedness would maintain daily communication with law enforcement agencies to ensure that any possible response is coordinated. This is especially important in Hoboken because it is located within a five-mile radius are the Hoboken Police Department, the Port Authority Police, NJ Transit Police and the New York Police Department.

This week, Mestre attended a major meeting in New York about how an evacuation of Manhattan would be undertaken.

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