Just a drill: NJ transportation officials to practice hurricane evacuation Thursday
STAFFORD TWP. — There will be no impact to Jersey Shore motorists Thursday morning when the New Jersey Department of Transportation commences an annual hurricane evacuation exercise, marking NJDOT's June shift into hurricane preparedness operations.
Forecasters recently predicted that this year's Atlantic hurricane season will be busy, though not as much so as 2020. But Andrew Tunnard, NJDOT assistant commissioner for operations, said practice makes perfect for the agency's field personnel.
So on Thursday, crews will gather at the Manahawkin maintenance yard to take equipment out of storage and rehearse what's called a "contraflow," or a reversal of traffic on roads designated as coastal evacuation routes.
No roads will be closed during the drill.
"Practice loading it onto their vehicles, taking those vehicles out to their assigned posts, and do everything right up to the point of actually putting out the cones or the barrels or the arrow boards," Tunnard said of the process.
Ideally, according to Tunnard, workers would love a week's notice to prepare for the impact of tropical force winds or more, but an exercise like this allows them to mobilize only about 30 to 36 hours ahead of time. That includes a full day, 24 hours, to let residents make use of evacuation routes.
"Before that, we need about 12 hours to set up the reverse traffic flow on the roadways that we have designated," Tunnard said.
The yearly practice run was interrupted last year due to COVID-19 but now will proceed mostly as normal, with some social distancing considerations still in place.
Tunnard said if you're in the area of the exercise, you may not even know it's happening, or that new personnel may be learning the ropes.
"The public probably wouldn't notice much of the things we change, but we do practice each year for a couple reasons," he said. "I should note that last year, we did not do the physical part of the exercise, we only did a tabletop version."
If you do see DOT vehicles roadside on Thursday, the general directive to slow down or move over still applies.
But otherwise, Tunnard said, make preparations within your own car should you ever need to evacuate, especially in a contraflow situation.
"Take good care of your vehicle," he said. "Make sure it has plenty of fuel. Good idea to have some extra water, perhaps some snacks if you're going to be in traffic for a little while."