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(Pod)Casting a Line into New Digital Waters

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 The FEMA podcast. Now available. Download episodes on iTunes or fema.gov/podcast.
 

Are you a life-long learner, or do you enjoy discovering new topics you didn’t even realize you’d find interesting?

That seems to be the outcome for a majority of podcast listeners who access this popular digital platform in ever increasing numbers to listen and learn about an array of topics from hard-hitting news to how things work. Described as “Internet-radio-on-demand,” the world of podcasting has exploded in recent years as an easy-to-use, mobile source of information, as well as a rare, but welcome reprieve from the ever present smartphone or laptop screen.

For those intrigued by this emerging medium who live, work and breathe emergency management or those who like the idea of learning something new, FEMA’s podcast may just be for you.

Recently launched, the FEMA Podcast consists of 20 to 30 minute audio-only episodes, updated on a weekly basis with content covering a range of topics, including innovative ways FEMA is approaching emergency management, stories from communities that have rebuilt smarter and stronger after a disaster, and testimonials of successful disaster recovery across the nation.

The first episode features a discussion with Administrator Brock Long highlighting lessons learned from the historic 2017 hurricane season, and his vision for the agency moving forward. Additional episodes are already available to stream or download on FEMA.gov and Apple iTunes with new content posted every Wednesday.

If you like the podcast, make sure to subscribe! We welcome your comments, feedback and future episode ideas on our website, fema.gov/podcast.

Happy listening!

Preparing Emergency Managers for Hurricane Season

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A man points while explaining a point as people work on computers.
J.D. Boesch from <a href="https://www.fema.gov/region-vi-arkansas-louisiana-new-mexico-oklahoma-te... Region VI</a> instructs emergency managers on hurricane evacuation strategies at the Hurricane Preparedness for Decision Makers course at the National Hurricane Center, Miami, Florida. (Photo by Dennis Feltgen). Download Original

Editor’s Note: Mr. Landsea had the unique opportunity through NOAA’s Leadership Competency Development Program to work at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. for three months.  While at FEMA, he contributed to both the training conducted by the National Hurricane Program as well as developing the “ground truth” for Hurricane Cora’s simulated landfall into Virginia.  

The 2017 hurricane season will be remembered for the extreme devastation it caused in Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida as well as our neighbors in the Caribbean.  While long-term recovery efforts continue, plans have been readied for the  2018 hurricane season.  No one knows how the United States will be affected by hurricanes this year, so plans must be prepared with the possibility that your community will be impacted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency with federal partners, such as the National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alongside state, county, and city emergency managers, have been working diligently to prepare for hurricane season.  This is done through training and outreach events coordinated by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program.  The program’s mission is to provide technical assistance to emergency managers and federal government partners for hurricane preparedness training, response and evacuation planning, and operational decision support.                                                

During this past winter and spring, the National Hurricane Program provided critical training for emergency managers that helps them to make well-informed decisions for the next hurricane. These life and death decisions include ordering evacuations of residents away from the coast, closing schools, and preparing their communities from hurricane-force winds, storm surge, fresh water flooding, and tornadoes. 

These trainings have resulted in hundreds of emergency managers receiving these crucial updates, and additional courses are scheduled for the summer.  Such training is an annual necessity due to the availability of new forecast products by the National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center, revised Hurricane Evacuations Studies (led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) due to increasing populations along the coast, changes and updates to decision support tools and capability, and job turnover in the emergency management community. Trainings also promote the availability of operational decision support and technical assistance through FEMA’s Hurricane Liaison Team (HLT). Embedded at the National Hurricane Center, the HLT facilitates the rapid exchange of critical information between the National Hurricane Center and the emergency management community.

A man stands in a classroom with students listening to a question.
Paul Morey from <a data-cke-saved-href="https://www.fema.gov/region-i-ct-me-ma-nh-ri-vt" href="https://www.fema.gov/region-i-ct-me-ma-nh-ri-vt">FEMA Region I</a> listens to a question from an emergency manager on hurricane evacuation strategies during the Hurricane Preparedness for Decision Makers course at the National Hurricane Center, Miami, Florida. (Photo by Dennis Feltgen). Download Original

In addition to regular training, FEMA led the 2018 National Level Exercise for the simulated Category 4 Hurricane Cora that hit the Virginia coast and simulated a direct strike on Washington, D.C.  FEMA’s National Exercise Division led the planning and execution of this large-scale exercise, which was held from April 30 to May11, 2018.

While the 2017 hurricane season was quite active, FEMA and Emergency Managers in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia were – fortunately – not directly affected, so the exercise allowed emergency managers in those locations to test and execute their hurricane planning, response, and recovery actions.

The exercise provides the ability for all levels of government, private industry, and non-governmental organizations to examine how they protect against, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane.

It is through these detailed, realistic exercises that existing hurricane plans can be examined before the next storm threatens the United States.  If gaps or problems are uncovered, they can be remedied so that FEMA and partners at the local, county, and state level can help people be safer and better prepared for when, not if,  a hurricane comes to shore. It is also an opportunity to revisit lessons learned from the previous hurricane season and implement them during the exercise.

As all levels of government, private industry, and non-governmental organizations prepare for hurricane season, the general public can and should become engaged with both hurricane preparedness training for your family and business.  Here are some on-line options for learning more about hurricane hazards and how to be prepared down to the neighborhood level:

  • Ready.gov (Plan ahead for Disasters.  Talk with your family.)
  • Red Cross (The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​)
  • The FEMA App (Receive alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations.  Get safety reminders, read tips to survive natural disasters, and customize your emergency checklist.  Locate open shelters and where to talk to FEMA in person [or on the phone].  Upload and share your disaster photos to help first responders.)
  • COMET (The COMET® Program is a world-wide leader in support of education and training for the environmental sciences, delivering scientifically relevant and instructionally progressive products and services.)

       These efforts by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program and FEMA’s National Exercise Division are two of the ways that the nation will be more resilient the next time a hurricane threatens.

Building a Resilient Nation

My first day on the job at FEMA was the day Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Since then I’ve seen firsthand the tireless efforts of FEMA’s dedicated workforce in supporting disaster survivors from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, the catastrophic California wildfires, and dozens of other disasters around the nation.

As we moved from immediate response and recovery to long term recovery, we reflected on the lessons from the 2017 disasters. In doing so, we contemplated not only how to increase our readiness for catastrophic disasters, but also how best to reduce impacts from future disasters. We soon realized that we needed to shift the way we as a nation think about disasters, so that together, we can be better prepared in the future.

As a result of our months-long after action review, we recently released our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. Goal 1 is to Build a Culture of Preparedness.

As the lead for this goal, I am proud to announce a new Resilience organization at FEMA to implement the vision set forth in the Strategic Plan.  FEMA Resilience includes our programs focused on preparing for disasters and making our nation more resilient.  By formalizing how we have been informally working together under Goal 1 as a unified organization, we believe we can drive risk reduction and enhance the nation’s resilience to disasters by leveraging several FEMA missions including mitigation, insurance, preparedness, grants, and continuity.

But to truly foster a culture of preparedness we must go beyond FEMA programs. We are engaging stakeholders—including federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and citizens—to join with us as partners in this effort.

So how do we join together to meet this goal? We will begin with four areas where we believe we can drive change at FEMA and beyond.

First, we need to acknowledge that during a disaster, individuals in the impacted communities are the first responders.  We need to empower and prepare individuals with lifesaving skills to help speed response and recovery efforts.  We also need to encourage citizens to be financially prepared for disasters.

Second, we need to reduce the financial burden of disasters to individuals, businesses, and governments by closing the insurance gap.  There is no more important or valuable disaster recovery tool than insurance.  This of course includes the National Flood Insurance Program.  But it’s not just flood insurance. All types of insurance have a role to play in reducing financial risk.

Third, we need to build more resilient communities to reduce risks to people, property, and taxpayer dollars.  This includes investing in mitigation.  The National Institute of Building Sciences recently released a study that found, on average, $1 spent on federally funded mitigation grants saves the nation $6 in future disaster costs.

Fourth, we need to assist communities with their continuity planning to ensure that essential government services function following a disaster.  This also includes issuing emergency alerts and notifications to ensure citizens are informed, and taking protective actions, during disasters.

FEMA has embraced the lessons from 2017 and has enhanced its readiness for catastrophic disasters. But only by working together, as a nation, can we reduce the impacts of future disasters. Our new Resilience organization will best enable FEMA to do its part to address this challenge, but we alone cannot achieve success. We are asking for you to join us in building a culture of preparedness—an ambitious, yet achievable goal.

Building Codes Protect Your Investment

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In my job leading the Risk Management Directorate within the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, I see the true impact of building codes and standards every day as my team works to improve resilience across the country. That’s why I’m so excited about May being National Building Safety Month, a time to reinforce the good work generations of planners, engineers, building code officials, and local advocates have put into protecting lives and communities across the country.

After all, natural and man-made disasters can cause significant human suffering and billions in damages. While the month acknowledges the significant advances made to building code standards, it does not signal building code professionals are resting on past laurels. Building codes continue to play an important role in improving public safety by increasing awareness about how building codes and code officials improve and protect the places where we live, learn, work, worship, and play.

Regardless of your level of familiarity with building codes, we all benefit from higher standards. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional engineer, a teacher, a firefighter, a law enforcement officer, a chef, etc.; we all understand that rebuilding stronger and safer post-disaster will pay dividends down the road when the next hurricane threatens the Gulf coast or the Caribbean, or when the next earthquake strikes the west coast. 

At home or at work, if you’re considering renovating, remodeling, or building from the ground up, look for the latest in technology and make sure it is based on the codes and standards that put safety and efficiency first. 

It’s important to note that hazard mitigation, including building beyond code requirements, in your renovation or new construction project provides a genuine return on investment of $6 for every $1 invested, on average, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences in their recent Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report.

FEMA’s Building Sciences Branch developed a How to Series to help property owners and contractors learn about construction techniques to protect their building, home, or business from future disasters. This is free guidance available for building industry professionals and do-it-yourself property owners to learn how to build, rebuild or retrofit to be disaster-resistant.

FEMA is committed to investing in mitigation activities, and our leadership team sees mitigation – the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters – as the cornerstone of how we build more prepared communities. To learn more about the Evolution of Mitigation and how FEMA and our partners use building codes to protect communities, check out this video on our website at: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/153336.

If you’re starting a project and want to learn more about making your home or business as disaster-resistant as possible, visit FEMA’s Building Codes resources page. You can also email FEMA Building Sciences or contact the Building Science Helpline at (866) 927-2104.

A Translator Reflects: Words with a Purpose

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Editor’s Note: Hurricane Maria changed the lives of many when it hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Four survivors, now FEMA local hires, share their stories on how Hurricane Maria impacted their lives, and how they are making a difference in their community every day.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel one word can actually carry enough meaning and emotion to transcend a single picture. In Puerto Rico during the past six months, Maria was that word, evoking both fear and bravery, despair and hope, destruction and resilience.

Like many Puerto Ricans, my life changed on Sept. 20, 2017. Only four days earlier, my family and I were celebrating my daughter’s 8th birthday on the beach. Soon after we blew out candles and opened gifts, we heard news confirming a potential Category 4 or 5 hurricane was heading our way.

Hurricane Maria left the entire Island, the place I call home, without power. It seemed like we were shut off from the world. Those early days after the storm the feeling of uncertainty was palpable everywhere you went. And even though food, water and other supplies had to be flown or shipped to our tiny Island, there was one thing we had in abundance: hard-working Puerto Ricans, and I was one of them.

Aside from isolated leaks and some water seeping through the windows, my family and our home emerged safely. I started working as a translator for FEMA External Affairs on Oct. 9, 2017. I had never felt as nervous, excited and completely overwhelmed as I did that day.

My mission was clear: I had to get important FEMA information to survivors who understood little to no English. Considering the Spanish language uses about 20 percent more words to convey the same message in English, this was no easy task. The challenge multiplies given the time constraints of a 30-second Public Service Announcement.

That was one of my first assignments.

I came to understand fairly quickly that the words I translate are more than just words. In some ways, they are a lifeline for people who lost everything. They need to know where to find water, where to apply for disaster assistance. They need to know how to prepare those military rations known as MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat.

The words I translate travel far beyond the walls of the building we all refer to as the JFO, or Joint Field Office. They find their way into the lives of survivors who are trying to live in their new normal.

External Affairs is a fast paced, high-octane environment with a diverse and talented team of professionals who are dedicated to providing accurate and actionable information survivors can use throughout their recovery.

My time here has helped me to put things into perspective. The work being carried out by FEMA and its partners throughout our Island is inspiring. For many, Maria, a word that six months ago meant fear, despair and destruction now stands for bravery, hope and resilience.

Living Through Hurricane Maria: A Lesson in Resilience

Editor’s Note: Hurricane Maria changed the lives of many when it hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Four survivors, now FEMA local hires, share their stories on how Hurricane Maria impacted their lives, and how they are making a difference in their community every day.

As Hurricane Maria approached my home in Puerto Rico, this island where I was born, I was comforted that my two little girls and I would be safe. Our three-bedroom concrete house in Guayama, a five-minute drive from the closest beach on the southeast coast, was not in a flood zone. It had never flooded. I felt fortunate. My worry in those early days was for others who weren’t as lucky.

As news of the storm’s growing strength reached us, I ran around securing the house, which sits on a tiny hill in a small development. Plastic bags were stuffed in the aluminum louvers in the bedrooms. A plywood panel covered the glass window in the living room. I shoved 10-pound sandbags at the base of the back door. I was prepared. My house was barricaded. Or so I thought.

After a restless night with little sleep, daylight on Sept. 21 greeted us along with floodwaters rushing in from the street into my “safe house.” My first thought was to protect my girls; ages 3 and 4, they are my life. I grabbed milk from the refrigerator, an armful of their clothes and the red life vests I had them wear that magical weekend before when we celebrated my birthday at Jobos Beach in Isabela.

House, pick up truck and cars affected by floodwaters.
The morning after Hurricane María came ashore on Sept. 20, 2017, a yellow pickup truck sits in floodwaters in a Guayama neighborhood. Download Original

Two doors away were the neighbors we had waved to so many times in the year we lived in Guayama. We sought shelter with them for a short time, but as the floodwaters continued to rise, we moved again. In the midst of the storm, we sloshed through murky floodwaters and found refuge at a stranger’s home a few houses away. A couple in their 50s had taken in a few other neighbors: eight adults, a 14-year-old girl with autism, an 18-month-old, four children under age 12 and two dogs: a German shepherd and a Labrador retriever. For the next six hours or so, their 2,500-square-foot home was our sanctuary.

Soon, the streets of our enclave had turned into rivers, swollen by floodwaters that had nowhere to go as storm drains became clogged with solar panels and other debris. The waters were rising so fast, we knew we had to leave. Even though our pickup truck was partially submerged, it was our only hope for escape. As neighbors worked to unclog the storm drains, my girls’ father got the pickup started. Against driving winds and pelting rain, the girls and I trudged through the floodwaters, climbed into the pickup, and our small family made our way through water-logged streets to the children’s grandparents’ home.

With my girls safe, I returned home that afternoon. The sight was heartbreaking. Water had climbed a foot up the walls. Much of our furniture, some clothes, my architecture degrees, my portfolio of work, the girls’ toys — all were destroyed. I thought I was prepared. I never thought this would happen to me. We were far from rivers, far from the ocean. I never anticipated how high and how fast the floodwaters would rise.

The following days and weeks were agonizing. Not knowing about your family and friends was something new and scary. Scavenging for essentials became my daily focus. I constantly worried about finding milk, food, and water for the girls.

The shelves of local supermarkets that managed to reopen were stocked with leftover goods that had long expired. I spent five hours waiting in line to buy $15 worth of gasoline. I had to decide which errands to run because I needed to conserve gas. We had no cell service. No electricity. Our method of communication resembled what might have been found in the old days. “I left a WhatsApp on your door,” friends would joke when we eventually saw each other. It meant a message was posted on my front door. About 10 days after the storm, a note buoyed my spirits: “Te Amo. Pa.”

Our small neighborhood symbolized generosity, hope and resilience. Neighbors shared chicken strips. When I cooked fresh food, whatever was left unused was shared with my neighbors because there was no refrigerated storage. Neighbors picked up damaged and destroyed items left at the curb and took them to a landfill. They cleaned my girls’ pink-and-white dollhouse, which Maria decided to spare.

Floodwaters inside living room.
Debris coats a tiled living room floor and a water mark is visible on the wall after Hurricane Maria floodwaters recede in a Guayama neighborhood in September 2017. Download Original
For two months, one couple who owned a convenience store and a generator shared power with six neighbors. Extension cords snaked from their house to ours and the generator ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., giving light to a few fortunate ones. Electricity meant my daughters could sleep with a fan and not get eaten alive by mosquitoes. The couple refused to accept any money for diesel. It all made me wonder why I wasn’t better prepared.

With no TV or cell phones to consume our time, the neighbors would barbeque together, sit around chatting and sharing drinks. I started reading again. I taught my girls how to wash clothes by hand. I began to notice children at play, racing bicycles they rode only occasionally before the storm. For eight weeks, that routine was our new post-Maria normal.

I applied for a job with FEMA and started working the week before Thanksgiving. This job has given me a great sense of satisfaction because I can use my skills and experience to contribute in the recovery of my beloved Puerto Rico.

Many people left the island after hurricanes Irma and Maria, which came ashore only two weeks apart. Many close friends I knew as a child went to the mainland. Leaving Puerto Rico is not a choice for me. I now live in the northeast, farther away from the water but closer to a new beginning. I am a hopeless optimist, and I want to raise my girls here with our family, and  their extended family. In this slice of paradise, surrounded by my people and my culture, I can only hope to live and do my part for a better Puerto Rico.

Making Sense of Acronyms

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A woman sitting at a desk reviews documents.
Janet Papinaw, grants writer for Hendry County, Florida, holds resources supplied by the Coordinated Place Based Recovery Support Team to help her identify technical and financial assistance for recovery from Hurricane Irma. Download Original

 

Imagine you are a local official. Your county was struck by a Category 2 hurricane. Extensive flooding destroyed homes and wiped out crops. Now, you have to navigate the complex road to recovery.

“I’m a one-person department in an agricultural county where 100 percent of the farms were damaged by Hurricane Irma,” said Janet Papinaw, grants writer for Hendry County, Florida. “Suddenly, I’m living in the world of acronyms.”

After a disaster, communities and local governments are often forced to make decisions about a wide range of issues. The choices they make will largely determine how successfully a community recovers, but many communities lack the experience or resources to evaluate offers of assistance, maximize recovery opportunities and develop strategies that lead to long-term, sustainable development.

To help communities recover from Hurricane Irma, the Interagency Recovery Coordination Group was established. The group joined Florida agencies in surveying all of the state’s counties to determine the impact of Hurricane Irma and identify existing capacity gaps.

Based on the survey, teams of experienced recovery professionals from FEMA and other federal agencies were assembled and dispatched to the areas that sustained the most damage: Collier, Hendry, Lee and Monroe counties. The Coordinated Place Based Recovery Support Teams included staff from the Community Planning and Capacity Building Recovery Support Function as well as our Hazard Mitigation, and Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation programs.

The teams embedded in the counties helped local officials identify and take advantage of technical and financial assistance.

“They were a few steps away from my office,” Papinaw said. Pointing to a series of binders, flyers and folders she said, “I have a stack of information about grants, low-interest loans and educational programs from the team.”

The support teams held weekly calls to discuss recovery issues with state officials, subject matter experts on recovery support, and advisers on mitigation, sustainability and the Unified Federal Review process.

“The teams put experts at our disposal,” said Lee County System Performance Analyst Joan LaGuardia. “We were offered guidance on mitigation issues and suggestions for alternate sources of funding. They also connected us with FEMA’s liaison to philanthropies and nonprofit groups that offered additional assistance.”

The teams facilitated a series of economic recovery workshops sponsored by the joint field office’s economic recovery support team, helped organize a conference in Lee County on sheltering vulnerable populations, and assisted Hendry County’s successful effort to acquire funding for two AmeriCorps VISTA positions.

Over the course of three months, the teams worked with local leaders to prioritize issues and develop appropriate, cost effective strategies. More than 60 recovery issues and strategies were identified to help rebuild, restore and revitalize Collier, Hendry, Lee and Monroe counties.

“You can read all you want about recovering from a disaster,” Papinaw said. “But when someone comes in who has done it before and says ‘this is what your county can do, here are some ways to do it,’ that takes it to a whole other level.”

Connecting Volunteers to Disaster Survivors

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Volunteers with the Christian Aid Ministries working on Sherri Gill’s Denham Springs home.
Volunteers with the Christian Aid Ministries working on Sherri Gill’s Denham Springs home. Download Original

Like many living in the Baton Rouge area, life-long Denham Springs resident Sherri Gills home had never flooded until August 2016. Rising water forced Gill and her family to evacuate to her brothers home, and for an extended period of time, 27 people, 13 dogs and two cats lived in a three bedroom, two bath house.

 

With no flood insurance the only option for the Gill family was to rebuild on their own – a job that quickly presented many challenges.

 

My brother and husband framed up the house and put up the roof, but my husband, Ken, fell off a ladder and broke his ankle, Gill said.

 

The next setback was when the family ran out of money before the home construction was complete. Thats when our Volunteer Agency Liaisons reached out to the faith-based nonprofit Christian Aid Ministries to assist the Gills.

 

Volunteer Agency Liaisons continue to help survivors recover after the2016 Louisiana flooding by connecting survivors with nonprofits. The liaisons help disaster survivors with unmet needs locate resources and build a bridge between the survivor and resources to assist in the recovery process.

 

To date, 331 nonprofit, community and faith-based agencies have been assisting Louisiana survivors impacted by flooding in March and August of 2016.

 

I look at a disaster as a puzzle. The pieces of the puzzle being the national, state and local nonprofits and faith-based groups that have stepped up to help citizens, Volunteer Agency Liaison Debbie Meyer said. I assisted in forming long term recovery committees with these nonprofits to help put the puzzle together.

 

It wasnt until Meyers connected Gill with Norma Schrock, of CAM that the puzzle starting coming together for Gill.

Gill said she is now hopeful her family will recover from the flood. The process is going faster than expected, she added.

 

Schrock said her ministry is in the process of providing manpower for up to 40 flood recovery projects since August 2016.

I feel like its an opportunity that God has given us, Schrock said. Hes placed us here and calls us to do this. We do it to bring all the glory to God.

 

Gill said working with Norma these last few months on building her home has also built a lifelong friendship.

“I hope once we get in the house, me and her stay in contact,” Gill said. “And maybe someday if she needs something she calls me up, and I could go help Louisiana survivors for the March and August floods of 2016.”

The Foundation for a Safer, Stronger and More Resilient Community

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Map of the United States with color codes for project areas.
<p>Map of areas across the country and in US territories that have Approved, Pending Adoption, Awaiting Revision, In Review, In Progress, expired and No Approved Plans.</p> Download Original

Before the first shovel hits the ground, any major public investment needs solid footing. Just ask local officials in Austin, Minnesota, where the groundwork for the city’s successful Flood Mitigation Program was laid decades ago.

In this southern Minnesota community of 25,000 people, 2004 marked a turning point. That was the year a September storm caused the Cedar River to crest 10 feet above flood stage and damage costs surpassed $13 million. The floodwaters damaged more than 400 homes and affected more than 60 businesses, including a food manufacturing plant that employed nearly 2,000 workers. The same area flooded again in 2008, but this time, thanks to the city’s proactive flood mitigation efforts, no structures in that exact area were damaged again.

During the period from 1978 to 2004, the city of Austin experienced several floods, sometimes more than one in any given year, and the same areas of the community and structures were affected costing tens of millions in damage. In 1978, the city evaluated its mitigation and recovery options and implemented a strategy to decrease its future risk after two destructive flood events.  In 2001, the city and Mower County jointly received a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grant to develop and adopt a multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plan and prioritize several projects for mitigation.

As part of its mitigation strategy, the community applied for federal grant money to acquire and demolish flood-prone homes. In 2004, the city applied for a Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant to buy-out 15 properties in the Wildwood Park neighborhood which had flooded six times in previous years. 

Austin’s turning point was not limited to buying-out flood prone properties. The city took multiple actions aimed at avoiding the worst outcomes of flooding. These projects began to take form as soon as the 2004 floodwaters receded. Years of planning and preparation helped the community to identify its biggest vulnerabilities, prioritize projects that addressed these risks, and line up the resources necessary to make the projects a reality— and begin breaking the cycle of damage and recovery.

Austin is one local community of many inspiring examples.  As of December 29, 2017,  20,550 local governments—as well as more than 150 tribal governments, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories—have hazard mitigation plans approved (or plans that are approvable, pending adoption) by FEMA. These plans cover more than 83 percent of the United States population.

FEMA recognizes the importance of hazard mitigation plans by supporting state, local, tribal, and territorial governments in plan development /updates with training, resources, and funding through two pre-disaster, hazard mitigation grant programs -- Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM).  This is in addition to the post-disaster grant program mentioned above, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

FEMA encourages mitigation planning as it demonstrates the commitment to reduce risks from natural hazards and serves as a strategic guide for decision-makers as they commit resources. In the Fiscal Year 2017 Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants cycle, 765 planning subapplications were submitted for funding.  In a recent announcement by FEMA on the applications identified for further review, nearly one-third are for planning assistance funding.  FEMA evaluates each application based on criteria such as cost-effectiveness, project feasibility and benefits to the community of future losses avoided after a disaster.

A hazard mitigation plan allows local leaders and staff to outline a strategy for reducing vulnerabilities for people and property from future natural disasters. It also engages the larger variety of stakeholders through an inclusive planning process. Developing a plan helps communities think about their hazard risks and what steps they can implement to lessen the impact before a disaster happens. Such mitigation planning and activities reduce the physical, financial, and emotional toll that a disaster can take on residents and businesses in a community.

A mitigation plan is the first step in a community’s effort to reduce disaster risk, but a plan is only as good as its implementation. For example, in 2007, Austin implemented a 20-year, 0.5-cent local sales tax to help fund more flood mitigation projects. The city leveraged this money to meet the cost-share requirement for state and federal grants to pay for $24 million worth of projects.

To date, 11 of the 12 priority mitigation actions are complete in Austin, including a $5 million temporary 1,100 foot floodwall that can be assembled in 90 minutes along the city’s Main Street. The city also built levees, raised roads, acquired properties, and extensively upgraded storm sewers and pumping stations to prevent losses to businesses and homes after a flood. Studies have shown that Austin’s efforts created a 165 percent return on investment.

To ensure communities continue to evaluate their changing risk and push their mitigation efforts forward, a mitigation plan must be updated every five years. FEMA continues to support and help local communities develop the a holistic plan for their local needs to build a more resilient nation. More information on the benefits of mitigation planning, resources available, and best practice examples are available at https://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-planning.

Resource Links:

A New Vision for Emergency Management

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Today I released FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, not just to guide FEMA as an Agency as we lead the way to a more resilient nation, but to serve as a strategy and an anchor for the whole community.

We cannot accomplish this by simply improving and expanding our programs and processes. We, as nation, must address some fundamental, cultural issues in order to become resilient. Resiliency is more than just strengthening our buildings and other infrastructure, it’s making sure that our citizens have the proper tools and skill sets to reduce the impact of future disasters.

This isn’t just our plan though; this plan will be a roadmap for the future of emergency management.

We as individuals need to get back to a “be prepared” mentality that served the nation through periods of both war and peace in the past, through periods of economic prosperity and during times of personal and national austerity. No matter how challenging the time, America has always been and will always be strongest when we ensure that our people are strong.

Embracing this culture of preparedness starts not in Washington, DC, but at home. We need to work to encourage everybody to question how prepared they are, and to act. Do you have CPR training? Do you know how to shut off the water valves and the gas valves in your home? Do you know what to do when a disaster strikes?

This journey does not begin and end at home, but moves out to spawn a culture where neighbor helping neighbor is not just a phrase or an idea, it is the reality. Citizens are the true first responders, so you need to be the help until help arrives

Know your neighbors, and what they may need if a disaster happens. Build a support network in your community that includes preparing together and having a plan to check on each other after a disaster occurs. We are here to help you prepare and understand your risks, but a true culture of preparedness begins with you.

Part of being prepared is understanding your finances. Does your family have enough savings in case of an emergency? Alarmingly, almost 60 percent of all Americans don’t have $400 in savings. We as a nation need to address financial wellness as a building block of preparedness.  We need to double the amount of flood insurance coverage we have in the country because any home can flood, and everyone recovers more quickly when insured. Mother Nature doesn’t recognize flood zone maps, and we currently have too many people at risk. And it’s not just flood insurance, its insurance against high winds in hurricane and tornado-prone areas, and earthquake insurance to protect your investment. Everyone should have the right insurance coverage for the hazards you face.

Everyone – whether you are a public servant, a member of a family, or a business that is part of a community – must work together to make this happen, FEMA alone cannot accomplish these goals.

Now is the time for all of us to prepare and be ready for the next disaster, and to help make our neighbors, communities, and nation more resilient.