If a Category 4 hurricane made landfall on New Jersey’s coastline, how would its food banks respond? How would these essential, frontline organizations plan to make sure the most vulnerable communities would be supported? How would they work together? These were the primary questions on the minds of leaders and operations managers of major food banks across the state at The Tepper Foundation’s table-top exercise in July. 

A table-top exercise provides a simulation of a disaster scenario — in this case, one that could impact many New Jerseyans, particularly those living in vulnerable, low-lying communities across the state. During the four-hour session, the five major food banks — those part of the Feeding America network — were tasked with developing a robust strategy to coordinate communications, personnel, equipment and other logistics in the face of crisis. This session was the culmination of a year-long training overseen by The Tepper Foundation to better prepare the state’s food security network for realistic disaster scenarios. 

“There have been a number of hurricanes and other events that have affected New Jersey,”  said Randi Tepper, CEO of The Tepper Foundation. “One way that we can best serve people in our state is by ensuring that food banks and other key institutions are prepared and ready to work with each other to support their communities.”

Eleven years after Hurricane Sandy, disaster preparedness remains critical. 

“The Tepper Foundation has this great vision of making organizations like the food banks and others more prepared, and I think it's just a really worthy cause,” said Suzanne Blake, a Certified Emergency Manager brought in as a part of The Tepper Foundation’s Crisis Response & Climate Resilience work to conduct the exercise. 

Ms. Blake oversaw three phases of the disaster simulation, each focused on a different phase of response:

  1. As the hurricane strengthened in the Atlantic Ocean, how would the food banks prepare their staff and alert their communities? 
  2. As the storm made landfall, how would the food banks assess impacts and the need for feeding across the state, particularly as some localized food distribution networks were disrupted or as one or more food banks were unable to operate due to disaster damage?
  3. In the weeks following the storm, what long-term strategies would best ensure that all New Jerseyans have reliable access to food?

“Individually, we wouldn't be able to do this,” said David Goldstein, Vice President of Operations at Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “While we have an Incident Command Center during disaster and we have a disaster organization chart, getting it all together on a state level takes coordination, and with The Tepper Foundation being able to support this for our state, it's going to make our state stronger. More importantly, it's going to allow the five food banks in the state to be able to respond to a disaster better, more efficiently, faster.”

This exercise aligns with The Tepper Foundation’s commitment to strengthening the nonprofit sector in New Jersey. The foundation continues to be responsive to the self-identified capacity needs of our grantees and works to improve community resilience in the face of natural disasters and other crises.