Hazard Mitigation Planning
Hazard Mitigation Planning is a responsibility shared between two federal agencies. They are related by aspects of reducing the risks to people, places, and infrastructure from natural and man caused disasters. One of those agencies is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Another is the National Fire Plan, created by Congressional order and administered by the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior. This is implemented with states, tribes, counties, and organizations, to improve response and resilience in the event of wildland fire.
Responsibilities of FEMA reach far beyond just wildland fire. “FEMA” appears in the media concerning immigration and boarder security, it also has responsibility for natural and man caused disasters. Natural disasters like floods, storms, earthquakes, and landslides capture attention of FEMA officials when they affect people. The responsibility to these events is firmly placed on the local governments. Local governments are the first responders.
Environmental Resource Analysis works with counties, tribes, states, and agencies to conduct hazard risk reduction planning. We work with our clients and stakeholders to develop meaningful, well designed, and effective mitigation measures. This insightful and broad in approach planning uses tools and techniques that bring real solutions to complicated problems. All projects are based on hands-on investigations of the landscape with coordination of people living and working the landscapes. Geospatial analyses may be used in combination with remote sensing images and weather system data. But all projects are based on these features with human integration.
Initial Hazard Mitigation Preparedness
Very often, local mitigation planning focuses on exposure to these natural disasters. That is a great place to begin developing preparedness for “expected events”. Occasionally, it is unexpected events that catches local responses off guard. Oftentimes, this is when the next level of government administration steps in to assist. It may be the County, State, or Federal Government making the assistance.
From the beginning of the emergency response event, all operations need to manage people, equipment, and financial administration using The National Incident Management System (NIMS). This is preparedness extended to the level of how emergency responders prepare for the unexpected. At D&D Larix, we assist jurisdictions to organize their Incident Command preparedness.
Hazard mitigation is a broad scoping approach taken by land managers and emergency responders. The intent is to identify where and when hazardous conditions are likely to occur, and why they may happen. More challenging is determining how to reduce the potential negative impacts of disasters. Conditions may be seen in the form of landscape level wildfires, watershed flood events, landslides, or earth-shaking building destruction. Severe weather events, and the human developments built within these risk-prone landscapes complicate the approaches considered.
Heavy rains in a region, or wildfires in a forest are not fundamentally hazardous conditions. Hazards are perceived when people place themselves in the path of disasters by building homes in a flood zone. It may be realized when using masonry to build multi-story buildings without sufficient support in an earthquake prone landscape. Log cabins with shake-roofing, nestled into mature forest trees, with a wooden balcony presents risk profiles.
Concentrate on identification of resistance to control. This perception applies equally to wildfires, flooding, earthquakes and landslides. Each control effort is different, but the concept places emergency responders in position to make efficient and safe responses.
People, structures, infrastructure, economic stability, and the way of life are seated at the heart of determining extreme events. Some events are extreme, and some are natural disasters. Natural events can create disaster situations, but most can be predicted, mitigated, and loss of life can be avoided. In our opinion, this is where most efficient planning is seated. Protect people, structures, infrastructure, the economy, and way of life.
This is what we do.
Western Redcedar, royalty of Hazard Mitigation
Unified Hazard Mitigation Planning
One strategy we use, integrates FEMA and National Fire Plan approaches into a unified hazard mitigation planning document. The programs have slight approach differences, but we have been successful when combining both regulatory frameworks into one planning document. The unified planning document is used by the jurisdiction for many purposes:
- resident outreach,
- grant applications,
- planning approaches, and
- regulatory consistency of their programs.
At the same time, the hybrid planning document reduces costs to the jurisdiction by not duplicating planning efforts. This extends to cost reductions for cooperators. Planning costs time and money. Unified planning approaches saves duplication of both.
Multi-Jurisdiction & Inter-Jurisdiction Planning
We were conducting a planning project for an Indian Tribe concerning salmon habitat enhancement on their reservation. Collaboration with the county’s Emergency Management Office identified some landslide and flood abatement projects proposed by the county. These projects were identified in the County Hazard Mitigation Plan approved by FEMA. By organizing project efforts to combine habitat modifications and infrastructure placement, new approaches were made.
These enhanced projects expanded to include flood mitigation and road infrastructure enhancement measures. They received FEMA funding to combine with salmon habitat enhancement measures funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The combined project implementation profile accomplished more than either plan initially intended. They cost less than either project could have organized if they did them separately. This was a Win-Win scenario at the best levels.
Human Caused Disasters
Terrorism, vandalism, sabotage and defacement of property and resources have been a reality of civilizations since time immemorial. The Terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, changed this reality for Americans and the people of the world. This event was a watershed incident that changed the course of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it changed how hazard mitigation assessments were conducted, prioritized, and implemented.
We have made assessments based on a spectrum of exposure profiles:
- potential vulnerability,
- hardness of targets,
- potential damages caused directly to an asset, and
- potential of an attack to provide response distraction to a secondary, but more vulnerable target.
Sites include food supply pre-processing, and water supply and storage distribution centers. Public gathering points with limited ingress and egress routes (concert halls, sporting events) give further challenges to mitigation. Every potential target is exposed to different vulnerabilities, and the response for each is ultimately unique.
This is what we do.
Documentation and Policy Compliance
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA works in a Regional office framework with each state’s program administered by one of the regional offices. Counties work with their state. Indian Tribes historically were administered through the State’s Homeland Security office before going to the FEMA Regional Office.
Tribes witnessed a change in 2012 as a bill was passed in Congress, and signed by President Obama. It allowed tribes to work directly with FEMA’s regional offices. This arrangement includes the ability of a Tribal Chairman to formally declare a disaster from a hazard event. Previously Tribes were required to get these declarations through the state’s Governor’s office first. In terms of tribal sovereignty, this represented a significant improvement in tribal-federal relations.
This does not mean Tribes will work with FEMA and other federal agencies in isolation from the counties or states. It means that Tribes are no longer considered to be “equivalent jurisdictions” with counties. Tribes have Treaties signed directly with with the U.S. Government, not with states.
“Flavors” of Hazard Mitigation Focus
Hazard Mitigation Plans have taken a few unique titles since 2002 for FEMA. “Hazard Mitigation Plan” title was and still is used, but today plans include sections for each of the jurisdiction’s hazards:
- Seizmic Shaking, and
Verification of Compliance
In all planning efforts, the requisite planning document must be initiated by the jurisdiction’s administration. It may be administered by the County Board of Commissioners, State Governor, or Tribal Chair. Most critical, the planning process must be simultaneously endorsed by FEMA. Plans must be completed, signed by all sub-jurisdiction leaders (such as City Mayors) and by the jurisdiction’s elected leader.
They are then reviewed by the Regional FEMA office hazard mitigation staff. If found to be compliant with the FEMA Crosswalk, it is authorized to serve for that County or Tribe. The approved planning documents serve an important goal to bring all jurisdictions to the hazard assessment evaluation. The Hazard Mitigation Plan discusses how risks potentially impact the life in the jurisdiction. As a jurisdiction, the planning event creates a unified approach to make the jurisdiction safer.
The FEMA approved hazard mitigation plans also provide a basis when seeking federal funding to implement risk reduction projects. These are important planning events to bring federal monies into the jurisdiction and to protect people from disasters.
We offer visitors some examples of County and Tribal Hazard Mitigation Plans we completed within the past decade. Some of these files are large (65MB) and all are PDF files. These were reviewed by FEMA, accepted by the Jurisdiction and promoted to the federal record. They are public records that we completed with our clients. All planning documents we have prepared have been accepted by our clients. They have passed through the compliance evaluations of responsible federal agencies.
This is what we do.
Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plans have been used to accomplish the same results. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) was passed in 2003. Stand-alone Community Wildfire Protection Plans use the FEMA approach, but they also satisfy HFRA requirements. One-stop compliance – when implemented.
In 2003, we developed a wildfire mitigation plan with a county and all of its incorporated cities and communities. Many homes are nestled within forested ecosystems. Part of the risk profile of this county included the Fire Prone Landscapes assessment. The accompanying photo was taken from an area where the highest risk for the county was identified.
Specific mitigation measures proposed removing surface vegetation from brush and shrubs near homes. It detailed the need to reinforce infrastructure, and prune trees in sensitive areas. Emphasis was given to increasing ingress and egress route widths to accommodate wildland firefighting trucks to use during an emergency. In the FEMA approved plan, recommendations were made to replace cedar-shake shingle roofs with composite materials. Techniques were taught to create defensible space protection between structures and forest vegetation.
The Community Wildfire Mitigation Plan identified the means to reduce the resistance to control.
A well-worded and presented plan is a great idea when endorsed by people and elected officials. But, if the plan is not implemented, it is worthless.
A grass fire ignited within this area in August 2004. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had spread to over 200 acres, destroying 5 homes. By the time the state fire protection agency responded with aerial attack, the fire had spread to over 10,000 acres. It took more homes and other structures with it. No roads were widened, no wildfire home mitigation measures had been made. There was no resistance to control built into the community.
Make the Plan, Implement the Plan
Hazard Mitigation Plan implementation reflects the unique challenges of the jurisdiction, and each community within the governing body. In response to these challenges, it is the desire of associated agencies and organizations to continue the implementation of existing programs. These programs have already provided a level of safety and preparedness. These successes can be built on in the protection of people, structures, infrastructure, the economy, and traditional way of life. This can improve those efforts in the long term.
A series of potential mitigation measures are developed, each in response to specific risks identified in the risk profiles developed. While each activity is presented as a stand-alone project, these projects must be implemented through a holistic approach. Hazard mitigation can achieve increased protection for all exposures to risk.
In order to accomplish these programmatic goals, successful jurisdictions need to coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions. This can make a meaningful level of preparedness and protection. Risk management activities need to be firmly footed with people who live and work in the area. This might be with Indian Reservation, a City, County or State.
Emergency Operations Plans
Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plans (CEOP) are sets of guidelines and procedures to assist emergency response efforts within jurisdictions. Emergency Operations Plans (EOP) parallel the National Response Framework (NRF) and incorporates guidance from FEMA. They also build on lessons learned from emergency responses within the jurisdiction in the past.
A Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan is developed to integrate the guidance of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). These build on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) successes within the actualities of the local jurisdiction. Systems of preparedness and response are combined to achieve emergency response successes.
Significant incident response efforts require the coordination of community members, visitors, jurisdiction employees, and emergency responders. These responses are often beyond the scope of normal, day-to-day operations. Emergency responses require situation specific actions depending on the type of emergency, and the location of the emergency. Specific threats to people and resources guide the reason preparedness is paramount to hazard mitigation.
Important vs. Emergency
The CEOP provides a set of fundamental preparations that can be applied to emergency and non-emergency situations. These fundamental operation guidelines, when implemented across the operations of the local jurisdiction helps to save lives and protect property.
Hazard Mitigation Plans, required by FEMA for Tribal and County jurisdictions, have been developed by D&D Larix. We have also assisted jurisdictions in the development of EOP and CEOP documents. The EOP is an integrated planning document used by County and Tribal Governments to plan, prepare, and implement emergency responses.
One goal of FEMA is to develop, in partnership with State, Tribal, and local governments, a national emergency management system. It must be comprehensive, risk-based, and use an all-hazard approach.
Take Action vs. Waiting
Timing of your preparedness approach is often taken off the table when an emergency happens. Hazard Mitigation Planning is the process used to meet the need. When this planning adopts a multi-jurisdictional approach, meaningful preparedness is achieved. This approach establishes a framework to be implemented locally while providing nation-wide consistency. Crucial to this system is the EOP, which describes:
- who will do what,
- as well as when,
- with what resources, and
- by what authority;
- during, and
- immediately after an emergency.
These are services we offer our clients. We do it efficiently, comprehensively, and with a history of successful achievement. You get the benefit of what we have done before, what we have learned from our past and current clients. Your unique knowledge and experiences are integrated into your EOP.
Contact us, e-mail, to make an important step forward to protecting the people, structures, businesses and way of life found in your community.
It is good to know where the risks are found, but knowing how to fix problems is priceless
While conducting risk profiles for natural hazards in this rural area, assessments were made throughout the communities. We explored risks from wildfire, flooding, unstable slopes, and insect infestations (specifically Locusts). The region had been the place of wildfires since time immemorial. Wildfire risks were building as the most recent wildfire had burned about 15 years previously. When we visited one of the communities where about 75 families lived, we recorded the photograph shown in this panel.
This was the local fire station.
Weeds made evidence that neither the office door, nor the bay-doors had been crossed in at least 7 months. No local residents were aware of who the fire chief was. No one could locate fire truck keys or the bay door keys. At some point in time, the station was built, fire apparatuses were purchased, and the community fire district was organized. At that time, wildfires and home fires had not been recorded for about 10 years. The community response to stop paying attention to preparedness issues became a liability.