Fire burns in the Mount St. Francis area of Colorado Springs, Colo., while firefighters continue to battle several fires in Waldo Canyon June 28, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

FEMA Ready Report: Invest in Mitigation to Protect Infrastructure Before Disasters Strike

The recent earthquake in Southern California, flooding in the Midwest, and landfall of Hurricane Barry are constant reminders that we live in a nation with diverse risk for natural hazards. It’s no secret that hazard risks change over time. Planning for risk at state, territorial, tribal, and local levels not only saves lives but is a vital part of protecting a community’s economy. For example, according to a 2018 study conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences, tougher requirements in building codes have saved $6 for every $1 spent – which indicates that the use and enforcement of up-to-date codes, specifications, and standards will enhance community resiliency and save money over time.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is a post-disaster grant available to eligible communities following a presidentially-declared major disaster. The purpose of HMGP is to help communities enact hazard mitigation measures, decreasing the risk of loss of life and property from future disasters. In addition to post-disaster recovery grants, FEMA awards planning and project grants and provides opportunities for raising public awareness about reducing future losses before disaster strikes through a variety of mitigation grant programs. To be eligible for these grants, FEMA requires state, territorial, tribal, and local governments to develop and adopt hazard mitigation plans. Through these grants – which include the HMGP, Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM), and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) – FEMA provides planning support to state, territorial, tribal, and local governments in developing and updating mitigation plans.

Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) is a new pre-disaster grant program being developed to create a safer, stronger, more resilient nation before disasters. The program allows for greater investment in pre-disaster mitigation and includes a focus on ensuring the nation’s infrastructure can better withstand severe weather and other natural hazards. BRIC will replace FEMA’s current Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant program. Although FEMA is still in the research and development phase of BRIC, the first grant application period is anticipated to begin in fall 2020.

Often, mitigation measures and projects require a community to provide advance funding for planning and projects when federal grant funding is not available. However, the planning and investment put toward mitigation has been shown time and time again to prevent costly disaster impacts. To illustrate the benefits of mitigation, highlighted below are some examples of mitigation success stories.

Arizona: 

In 1959, the Arizona State Legislature approved the creation of the Flood Control District of Maricopa County (FCDMC) to control flooding. This allowed the FCDMC to place a property tax levy of 29 cents per $100 of assessed house value. Over the years, the FCDMC created three projects that had a significant impact in protecting the area from an October 2000 severe storm. The channeling and bank erosion projects of Skunk Creek brought property out of the floodplain in parts of Peoria. Completion of these projects removed several hundred homes from flood danger, saving residents money and providing them peace of mind. The project combined flood safety, environmental consciousness and multi-use elements.

Adobe Dam and Skunk Creek protected Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria and the State Capitol complex in the 2000 storm. The investment of $23.2 million (back in 1982) provided protection for several billion dollars in property value. Based on current property values, the initial investment for Cassandro Dam Wash of $5 million invested back in 1996 has saved three times that amount in property damages in North Wickenburg.

Texas:

Bunker Hill Village, Texas, has spent more than a decade and $20 million on drainage projects to combat flooding.

One of the first mitigation projects in Bunker Hill Village began in April 2009 after a major flooding event. The city started with the installation of major conveyance lines that were designed to support water volume consistent with a flood magnitude of a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

Drainage boxes were another mitigation project adopted by the city for flood prevention. The boxes were placed in the ground near areas of standing water to help facilitate proper water drainage and avoid property damage.

In addition to the infrastructure improvements the city made, public works employees consistently checked the drainage on the main roadways while residents maintained the drains on their local streets. Between the bands of rain, police officers and residents simultaneously raked out pine needles and other debris in all the neighborhoods.

When Bunker Hill Village experienced its next flood in 2015, damages were less extensive as a direct result of the mitigation practices implemented in previous years. In April 2016, flooding occurred again but damaged only 13 homes. In 2017, only one home suffered significant damage due to Hurricane Harvey.

Colorado:

Mitigation investments are not limited to flooding, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Colorado has proven that wildfire mitigation can save properties and lives.

In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire started near Colorado Springs, burning 18,000 acres and destroying 347 homes. The Waldo Canyon Fire remains the costliest wildfire in Colorado history.

In the wake of this devastating event, Colorado Springs established a [Fire] Ignition Resistant Construction Ordinance that provides strict ignition-resistant building codes and vegetation management to all new or reconstructed homes within the Hillside Overlay Zone of the city of Colorado Springs. The Colorado Springs Fire Department is an integral component in the permitting and inspection process, ensuring that reinforced building codes remain in compliance.

In addition to enforced building ordinances, Colorado Springs went one step further by creating a campaign titled Sharing the Responsibility! This campaign engages local leaders and homeowners with community mitigation education and outreach, planning, fuel management, and grant administration.

Mitigation measures, like the ones listed above, will potentially save millions in property loss, but more importantly these measures will save lives.

To find out more about how FEMA is helping to build safer, stronger, and more resilient communities, visit: https://www.fema.gov/safer-stronger-protected-homes-communities.

Katherine Fox serves as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistant Administrator for Mitigation within the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA). In this role, she oversees the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program (PDM), Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) grants, and the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Floodplain Management Program and Community Rating System (CRS). Ms. Fox also oversees FIMA’s Disaster Operations and leads the Hazard Mitigation Disaster Workforce Cadre. Before joining FIMA, Ms. Fox was the Director of the FEMA National Preparedness Assessment Division, where she focused on a range of analytic efforts to evaluate the Nation’s preparedness posture, such as publishing the annual National Preparedness Report, evaluating state preparedness capabilities through the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and Stakeholder Preparedness Reviews (SPR), and supporting the FEMA Continuous Improvement Program. Recently, Ms. Fox served as the Acting Assistant Administrator for the FEMA National Preparedness Directorate (NPD). In this capacity, she set NPD’s strategic priorities to build and validate National preparedness capabilities through national risk analysis, training more than two million first responders annually, conducting over 100 exercises, and researching individual and community preparedness actions. Subsequently, she supported the FEMA Recovery Directorate with several critical needs during the response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

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