In an effort to protect vulnerable New Jersey residents during the winter, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Eric Houghtaling, Joann Downey and Valerie Vainieri Huttle would require counties to alert the public whenever the National Weather Service predicts temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced the legislation on Thursday.
The bill (A-6056) would require each county to issue Code Blue Alerts within 24 to 48 hours of the predicted freezing temperatures, regardless of whether precipitation is also anticipated. Each county’s Office of Emergency Management must distribute this notification of the impending weather to municipalities, social service agencies and non-profit organizations offering relevant services.
Current law only mandates an alert when the 32-degree temperatures will be accompanied by precipitation – otherwise, the public is only notified at 25 degrees or less.
“Even if snow or sleet do not accompany cold weather, 32 degrees is still a potentially lethal temperature for people with certain medical conditions or without a home to protect them,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Getting the word out to the public – especially any agencies that assist these at-risk individuals – can quite literally mean the difference between life and death.”
The Code Blue Alert allows authorities to bring homeless people to local shelters that make extra beds available for the influx of individuals requiring warmth. Counties are also required to make emergency warming centers available to members of the public during the cold weather.
“Freezing temperatures mean something very different to a homeless person than to someone with a warm house to sleep in,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “With over 8,800 homeless individuals throughout our state, nearly 1,500 of whom are unsheltered, it’s important we remember their circumstances and do what we can to offer our support during the cold winter months.”
Alerts are often communicated through social media and local media outlets to help spread information about the impending weather and the location of various warming centers throughout a county.
“By communicating important information to our residents, we can help keep them safe from inclement weather they may not have known about otherwise,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This legislation will help protect vulnerable residents and make sure no one is left behind when it comes to temperatures that could pose a serious risk to their health.”
The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.