During his keynote address at the 15th annual New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Conference in Atlantic City, the Honorable Tom Ridge praised emergency and first responders for their impressive response to Superstorm Sandy.
“The emergency management community in New Jersey gets it,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the stories I’ve heard about the response to Superstorm Sandy.” For example, the seamless communication between private and public sectors during the response demonstrated how well those in the state had trained and practiced together, he said.
While the response was exemplary, Ridge encouraged emergency managers to continue working to build a community of resiliency. “A community of resiliency is not a plan or a strategy or a training exercise — it’s far more than that. It’s the horizontal integration of federal capabilities, the vertical integration of state and local government with the private sector and multiple disciplines,” he said. “So at the end of the day, we have the capacity in any particular community to bring maximum effort to the response to an incident.”
Every level of government — federal, state and local — has a role to play. “We know first responders are the first ones in and the last ones out. The federal agencies are the last ones in and the first ones out. That’s just the nature of the game,” Ridge said. “They all have a role to play in making America safe and more secure and prepared for all these events.”
While such disasters wreak havoc on communities, there are some positive outcomes, namely that the public is forced to collectively recognize the value of emergency preparedness and response. “In the post-9/11 world, people have figured out that what you do is far more important than they thought before,” Ridge remarked. The number and severity of disasters in recent years has put a spotlight on emergency management agencies. And much like an insurance policy, the public and government has recognized that these agencies need to be funded so they are able to effectively respond in time of disaster. “You’re an insurance policy that no one wants to call on,” he said.
As he closed, Ridge emphasized that this community of resiliency, which he said is formidable in New Jersey, requires great leadership. He encouraged the 1,500 attendees of the regional five-day conference to embrace the notion of strong leadership and continue working together.
Leischen Stelter is the social media coordinator with the public safety team at American Military University.