Deadline nears for mitigation-plan OK
Beginning this fall, some local governments could find themselves unable to obtain the federal funds they need to help their communities recover from natural disasters. After Nov. 1, 2004, cities, counties and tribal governments that do not have disaster mitigation plans that have been approved by the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be ineligible for certain types of disaster-recovery aid.
Under the terms of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, which seeks to reduce federal expenditures for catastrophic events, a city or county affected by a declared disaster — such as a hurricane, flood or wildfire — still would be able to receive emergency aid without having an approved plan in place. However, it would be ineligible for FEMA funds to support hazard-mitigation projects, such as elevating flood-prone homes or seismic retrofitting vulnerable structures.
Also, for a city or county to be eligible for FEMA funds for “permanent restorative” work — the reconstruction of public buildings, such as fire stations and schools, and the repair of roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure after a disaster — after Nov. 1 2004, the state in which the city or county is located must have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan. If the state does not have an approved plan, no funds for restorative work can be provided to cities and counties even if the cities and counties have approved plans. Broadly speaking, a state plan consists of a composite of the plans of its local jurisdictions. According to FEMA, more than 60 local governments have obtained approval for their disaster mitigation plans so far, and more than 1,000 have plans that are currently under review.
FEMA wants the plans to identify preventive measures, such as the construction of buildings and bridges that are less susceptible to disaster damage. “Mitigation planning has to become part of everyday decision making among all city leaders,” says Terry Baker, senior mitigation specialist at FEMA. “It’s got to be part of planning for capital improvements, water and sewer, and roads and highways.”
A plan must include a discussion of the planning process, a risk assessment, a description of mitigation measures, a plan-review process outline and documentation that the plan has been adopted formally by the city or county. Some states require local governments to prepare mitigation strategies, and cities and counties can build on those plans to meet FEMA requirements. Also, some local governments already may have flood mitigation or single-hazard mitigation plans that can be expanded to create the multi-hazard mitigation plans required by FEMA.
Maricopa County, Ariz.’s efforts to craft a disaster-mitigation strategy started about a year ago. “Our approach was to bring all the cities, towns and tribes together on this,” says Margaret Ayala, emergency services planner for the county’s Department of Emergency Management.
Maricopa County contains 24 cities and towns and three tribal governments. While each entity — including the county — will have a separate plan tailored to its needs, the governments are working together to synchronize plans and coordinate activities.
Participants who helped develop plans in Maricopa County include the Red Cross, public utilities, transportation and zoning officials, hospital representatives and a local nuclear power plant planner. Initially, the entities met about once a month to gather information. Now, they meet less frequently. The county and its governments expect to have their plans ready to submit to the state in June and to FEMA by the end of August.
Baker of FEMA says that governments that do not meet the Nov. 1 deadline should continue to develop plans and that funds to support planning will be available. To find more information, visit www.fema.gov/fima/planning.shtm.
Conni Kunzler is an Arlington, Va.-based freelance writer.