|Somerset County is at the hub
of Central New Jersey. Located midway between New York and
Philadelphia, its 21 municipalities encompass 305 square miles
and are home to over 300,000 people. It contains a balance
between urban and suburban neighborhoods and rural countryside.
Seven full-time employees staff the Somerset County Office of
Emergency Management, or OEM. In addition to the director, there
are three deputy coordinators, two administrative assistants and
one radio technician. The duties of the office include the
- Emergency Management obligations
- 9-1-1 Communications Center
- Emergency Services Training Academy
- Hazardous Materials Response Team
Director Douglas J. Vornlocker oversees the entire operation
from his office located in Hillsborough at the Emergency
Services Training Academy. By definition, the emergency
management director is responsible for the development,
coordination and activation of countywide mutual aid and
emergency management plans. During an emergency he is
responsible for the activation of county emergency management
facilities and must provide necessary resources available from
the county government. All of the county’s 21 municipalities
have active municipal coordinators and they all maintain
approved Emergency Operations Plans.
9-1-1 Communications Center
In Somerset County the director also oversees the operation
of the county 9-1-1 Communications Center, which is staffed by
20 full-time dispatchers and five supervisors. One of the Deputy
Coordinators is permanently assigned as the Communications
Chief. The 9-1-1 center handles complete fulltime dispatch for
six of the 21 municipalities and handles 9-1-1 dispatch (fire,
EMS or both) for nine additional communities. The communications
center is the central dispatch point for the county Sheriff’s
Department, the Prosecutor’s Office and county specialized units
such as Hazmat, CART, SCERT and Hostage Negotiations unit. The
center is also the backup dispatch point for emergency services
throughout the county.
The center annually handles over 158,000 calls for service in
addition to over 65,000 9-1-1 calls. The county also has an
extensive flood-monitoring program where the major streams and
rivers in the county are monitored and alarmed. Members of the
county Engineering Division maintain these monitors and they
utilize a 24/7 computer monitoring system based in the 9-1-1
Communications Center. Weather monitoring is also accomplished
at the center.
A newly installed county-wide UHF radio trunking system will
expand and enhance the capabilities of routine county services
such as Transportation, Roads & Bridges, Recycling, etc. The
system is also designed to include the emergency response
community. Many of these departments will be transitioning to
this system in the near future.
The OEM also coordinates and is in charge of the county
Hazardous Materials Response Team. The team is comprised of an
all-volunteer staff of county employees and local fire and EMS
people. The team is involved in approximately 200 responses on
an annual basis. Incidents range from minor leaks and spills to
the complex problems of industrial releases and major
transportation accidents. Training for the Hazmat team consists
of Awareness, Operations and Technician-level courses, ICS 100 &
200, in addition to other training, seminars and workshops.
Ongoing training is also conducted in Standard Operating
Procedures such as driver training, equipment and instrument
operations, response procedures and decontamination.
The Somerset County
Emergency Services Training Academy is also the
responsibility of the OEM. A Training Supervisor oversees an
extensive roster of classes including basic fire fighting and
EMS courses. These courses are offered in the spring and again
in the fall. Additional courses such as Firefighter II, Fire
Officer, EMS, Hazmat Awareness and Operations, Search & Rescue
and many other courses are also conducted at the Academy.
Currently there are 26 fire instructors and 16 EMS instructors.
The Academy is located on Roycefield Road in Hillsborough
Township and includes an administration building with 5 class
rooms, burn building with 3 burn simulators for live fire
training; 5-story training tower for rappelling and ladder
drills; smokehouse with moveable walls and an outdoor classroom.
A drafting pond is also on site as well as large concrete pads
for extrication drills and fire extinguisher training. The
Academy also conducts confined space training, railroad tank car
simulations and flashover training in a specially designed
Hurricane Floyd rumbled through Somerset County in September
of 1999 and stretched all of our resources to the limit. The new
Emergency Operations Center was quickly put to the test. It
remained open 24 hours a day for 10 days and supplied the needs
of the communities that were inundated by the storm. The
combined effort of the New Jersey State Police OEM, NJ National
Guard, Red Cross, Salvation Army, county VOAD (Volunteer
Organizations Assisting in Disasters) and many state and federal
organizations helped to mitigate the effects of the most
devastating storm to hit the county in 30 years.
Since then the County has endured winter storms that closed
schools and roadways and altered the daily lifestyle of many
residents. Some of these events qualified for Federal
reimbursements through FEMA and the office coordinated this
The fight against terrorism is of prime importance. Critical
infrastructures throughout the county are monitored by the local
services. Information and intelligence on activities is
disseminated routinely. The office continually interfaces with
the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management to
keep the lines of communications open. Local OEMs and emergency
services have been provided equipment obtained through various
grants and programs. Training is provided by the staff as
Planning and exercising is an ongoing process. Exercises
involving WMD, bio-terrorism, search & rescue, and evacuations
have all been conducted.
The CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program is part
of the national Citizen Corps initiative. Many communities have
CERT teams trained at this time. The county has provided the
facilities and instructors for two training sessions so far.
Interested citizens should contact their local OEM coordinator
for additional information.
The Somerset County OEM is constantly striving to maintain a
high degree of preparedness for its citizens.