Code Blue (CB) Emergency Shelter Initiative

About the Initiative

In an effort to respond to the plight of homeless individuals and families during severe winter weather, Union County Department of Human Service, in concert with the Division of Emergency Management and Union County Police implemented a Countywide Code Blue (CB) in December 2007 to prevent death and injury among homeless people during periods of extreme weather conditions. Union County’s CB initiative is the first countywide service of its kind in New Jersey. As a model for innovation and responsiveness, CB received the 2009 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.

A CB alert starts with the Union County Office of Emergency Management, which transmits warnings of severe, potentially life-threatening cold weather from the National Weather Service.  The threshold for activating CB is an overnight temperature below 25 degrees Fahrenheit or temperature of below 32 degrees Fahrenheit with precipitation. The alert goes out to the county’s Department of Human Services, which notifies emergency shelters, community organizations, and the County Police. The County Police get the word out to law enforcement personnel in all 21 municipalities. The early warning gives communities time to identify and locate people potentially in need of help. Shelters get time to arrange for extra beds using cots provided by the County. County and municipal police go on the lookout for persons needing shelter, and assist them with transportation.

All CB shelter placements are made by the Division of Social Services.  During the CB period emergency shelters are expected to increase bed capacity.  Once shelters are filled to capacity alternate arrangements will be made by Union County Division of Social Services.  Along with providing temporary shelter, CB helps tackle issues related to chronic homelessness.  Persons seeking emergency shelter on a CB alert are provided with screening and counseling to help them get back on their feet over the long run.

Code Blue Procedures

  • CB will be activated by Union County Department of Human Services/Division of Planning and Office of the Director in conjunction with the Union County Department Public Safety/Divisions of Emergency Services.
  • Municipal Police Departments will be notified when a CB is activated.
  • The Division of Planning will notify CEAS/CoC organizations when a CB is activated by 10:00 a.m. by notification through the First Alert system.  It is the responsibility of the member agencies to register for First Alert (instructions on registration are included).
  • Emergency shelters are expected to extend their capacity to highest possible levels on these nights.
  • All CB placements will be made by the Union County Division of Social Services.
  • Individuals and families should be referred to UCDSS between 8:30 A.M. and 4:00 P.M.
  • After hours (after 4:00pm) and when County offices are closed, all after hour referrals should be directed to the Union County Hotline at 908-249-4815  Additionally, walk-ins will be accepted at the Salvation Army (located in Elizabeth).
  • Municipal Police Departments have been asked to transport individuals found on the street during a CB to UCDSS between the business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

REMINDER: On days when CB is not activated, after hour referrals should continue to be directed to the Union County 24-Hour Hotline 908-249-4815


As a reminder, to receive the CB Notifications you must be registered for the distribution list.  Please follow the instructions below:

All CB alerts will be sent via the Union County First Alert system.  If you would like to register, please email and include the following information: your first & last name and e-mail address.  Once provided, you will receive an email containing a registration link allowing you to modify your new account and add your contact information in it.