Winter officially starts next week but we’re already facing brutally cold temperatures in New Jersey.

State officials are hoping the extreme weather serves as a wake-up call for many New Jerseyans who aren’t prepared for the change of seasons.

"We’re urging everyone to get fully prepared for winter, no matter whether they’re in their homes, their cars or outside in their yard,” said Laura Connolly, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management.

She said this means “making sure that you protect your pipes. Make sure your heater is working properly. If you have oil heat, making sure you have a full tank and it’s ready for winter. And take a survey of your property and make sure that you can cut away any tree branches that during an ice storm or a snow storm may damage your home."

In your home, you need to put together an emergency kit with food, water, medicine a flashlight, a radio, batteries and important papers in case of something unexpected, she said.

You also need to put together a "go bag" that you can quickly grab if you need to flee the scene.

“If, for example, there was a neighborhood gas leak and you needed to evacuate your home, you would have a go bag to take with you,” she said.

Connolly says nobody ever thinks a bonafide disaster or a critical emergency is going to happen, but in Jersey “we are susceptible to natural hazards and manmade hazards.”

If you’re married and have kids, “you’re responsible for everyone within the family, so having these preparedness items really does pay off in the end.”

Are people more complacent than they used to be?

Connolly says unfortunately the answer seems to be yes.

“Last winter we had 70-degree temperatures on Christmas Day, so we’ve got a little bit relaxed with our winter preparedness. It’s always a problem but preparedness always pays off.”

State Emergency Management officials are also promoting winter driving safety.

This means “making sure that people are winterizing their cars, doing an overall inspection, a tire pressure check and making sure people have an emergency kit inside their vehicle in case they get stranded, including kitty litter for traction, ice scrapers, cell phone chargers, jumper cables, flashlights, blankets and things like that.”

You can get more information about winter preparedness at state.nj.us/njoem/plan/winter.html.

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