Emergency Management in New Jersey

A Historical Perspective

The NJ Office of Emergency Management office has evolved from a small agency with limited planning, training, and response capabilities to its present status as an integral part of state government.

Before1950, federal and state disaster relief programs focused on protecting the U.S. population from acts of war. At that time, key functions of the integrated emergency management program model used today - evacuation planning, sheltering, volunteer management, alert and warning, and resource management - were elements of the "civilian defense plans" developed to prepare for war-related activities.

During the 1950's and 1960's, the N.J. Civil Defense Office was primarily responsible for coordination with its designated federal counterpart to disseminate information on civil defense, to maintain civil defense communications, and to provide for civil defense training programs. Nationally, the federal government offered assistance on a per-incident basis to victims of natural disasters.

Until 1979, emergency management programs dedicated to specific hazards were scattered around the national government in various Federal agencies. During this time, the realization was growing that managing an emergency successfully included attention to all phases of the emergency -- mitigation (risk reduction), preparedness, response, and recovery - and similar emergency management strategies could apply whether the emergency was a flood, earthquake, drought, fire, chemical spill or a terrorist attack.

The increase in technological disasters in the 1970's and 1980's - many due to hazardous chemical emergencies - brought about the "all-hazard" approach to emergency management and the emergence of state offices with a much broader scope of responsibility.

In 1979, after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station incident, President Carter established the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This vested in the President all functions that had been delegated or assigned to the Civil Defense Preparedness Agency, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, the Federal Preparedness Agency, and the agencies named in the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977.

In 1980, amendments to the Civil Defense Act mandated FEMA to work with the State and local governments to assist them in setting up emergency management programs. These amendments prescribed the coordination and support role that FEMA plays to State and local governments.

Amendments to the Civil Defense Act also provided for "dual use" of funds, meaning that Federal funding to the states may be used to prepare for and respond to natural and technological emergencies to the extent that the use of funds is consistent with, contributes to, and does not detract from attack preparedness. Once all emergency programs were established under FEMA, work began to consolidate functional activities that were similar for all emergencies (such as evacuation or public education) into a unified planning effort.

A Presidential Executive Order states that the Director of the FEMA will represent the President in working with State and local governments and the private sector to stimulate vigorous participation in civil emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery programs. The FEMA Director also develops policies which provide that all emergency management functions, resources and systems of executive agencies are integrated with organizations, resources and programs of state and local governments, the private sector and volunteer organizations.

In New Jersey, a Reorganization Plan was submitted to the Legislature to transfer the functions, powers and duties of the Office of Civilian Defense Director from the Department of Defense to the Department of Law and Public Safety on July 22, 1976.  Pursuant to an order of Attorney General William F. Hyland dated January 12, 1978,   the Office of Civilian Defense Director was established in the Division of State Police.  Colonel Clinton L. Pagano, Superintendent, New Jersey State Police was appointed as the State Director on February 10, 1978.  On December 17, 1980, the Honorable Brendan Byrne, Governor of the State of New Jersey, issued Executive Order 101, triggered by the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as previously described, which renamed the Office of the Civilian Defense Director as the Office of Emergency Management. 

All of the functions, powers and duties of the Office of Civilian Defense Director in the Department of Law and Public Safety as provided in the July 22, 1976 Reorganization Plan are carried out by the State Director of Emergency Management.

The Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police is generally also appointed as the State Director of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management.

In order to effectuate the powers of the Governor, the State Director of Emergency Management supervises, directs and controls the appointment of one or more deputies and/or assistants to control the daily activities of the State Office of Emergency Management. The function and staffing of the Office of Emergency Management will be as proposed from time to time by the State Director of Emergency Management with the approval of the Attorney General.

The Governor of New Jersey has the overall responsibility for Emergency Management activities in the State. On behalf of the Governor all activities and departments are coordinated, directed and controlled from the State Office of Emergency Management, Emergency Operations Center.