Scorched trees line a street in California.

Back when I was in college, I did a lot of community service. One of my favorite and most memorable service projects was helping out at a roller skating event hosted by a local public library. I laced up a pair of skates and got rolling to help supervise the young skaters. It was essentially a perfect project for me; I’d loved skating growing up and hadn’t had an opportunity to do so in nearly a decade.

Well, it turns out, when you get older your center of gravity shifts and things that were easy and fun when you were a kid suddenly turn into dangerous pastimes. I broke my wrist that day because I’d fallen on it too many times without wearing wrist guards. (I hadn’t worn knee pads or a helmet, so even though things could’ve been worse, it still was not one of my best decisions.)

Helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, and other forms of personal protective equipment are all important when it comes to recreational sports like roller skating. They don’t keep injuries or falls from happening but they can decrease the likelihood of a serious injury from falling.

And like falling while skating, disasters are unfortunately inevitable. But afterward, people can take steps in order to keep such significant damage from happening again.

Those steps are part of mitigation, where certain things like elevating homes and building safe rooms work to lessen the impact of disasters on communities and their residents. Of course, those are just two examples that can be used for two different hazards (flooding and tornadoes, respectively). Mitigation is a bit like long-term preparedness if you think about it—an investment in the safety of a community long before a disaster.

This is the last piece of our four-part series on the disaster cycle and you might recall the first one where I mentioned that umbrellas and raincoats don’t keep disasters from happening. Mitigation is similar in that it can’t completely prevent them either.

It’s more like wearing knee pads and wrist guards while roller skating. They can be invaluable and save a lot of pain, time, and money in the long run. They may not keep you from falling, but based on my own experience, they can help keep you from being severely injured if you do.

Safe rooms, designed to provide sturdy protection from the high winds that make up tornadoes, and elevating homes above flood level are similarin that they’re investments in safety—particularly in areas that are prone to tornadoes or high winds and substantial flooding.

How does a community work toward mitigation?

Some communities get their mitigation funding as part of a disaster declaration through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to help states build back stronger and better prepare themselves for a future disaster. 

Communities don’t have to wait for a disaster declaration to have access to mitigation grant programs though. There are lots of grants through FEMA, and other agencies, to help communities make smart choices before the flood or tornado hits. 

And when the forecast changes once again and another storm threatens a community—prior investments in safety will make a difference, especially when it comes time to break out those umbrellas and raincoats again…


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