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Hazard mitigation planning is the process of identifying possible hazard events and figuring out how to reduce or eliminate the possibility of serious injury, loss of life, property damage, or property loss resulting from a hazard event. Hazard events can be natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes and forest fires, or technological or man-caused hazards, such as oil and hazardous material spills, or now even terrorist threats. In general, a hazard plan identifies possible hazard events and identifies actions that can lessen the negative impacts of the event.
What is a Hazard Plan?
A Hazard Plan is a plan that is formally adopted by the local governing body that identifies possible hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities in an area and methods to mitigate (lessen or eliminate the impact) when these hazards occur. The federal government has enacted the Disaster Mitigation Act, which has certain planning requirements that must be met to qualify for hazard mitigation grant funding. Federal Regulations (44 CFR Part 201.6) describe the process to be followed in a Hazard Mitigation Plan. This process is briefly outlined below:
Why do local communities need a hazard plan?
Having planned, pre-identified, cost-effective mitigation measures and incorporating them into capital improvement projects, public education, and other local government functions will go a long way towards making communities sustainable. Sustainability, with regard to disasters, means being able to withstand a severe natural event or a number of less severe events without incurring permanent property damage, diminished productivity, or reduced quality of life.
To ensure communities are prepared, the federal government has outlined certain requirements for local governments to adopt formal plans. Under the DMA 2000, "local jurisdictions" (cities, boroughs and tribes) must have an approved plan by November 1, 2004. The Alaska Division of Emergency Services (ADES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved plan will be required for the local government to be eligible to receive federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding for Presidentially-declared disasters that are declared after November 1, 2004.
The state and federal governments have set up detailed web sites and developed templates to assist communities in meeting the requirements of this law. See the Additional Resources section of this chapter for a complete list.
What is the intent of mitigation?
It is impossible to prevent certain hazard events, so a mitigation plan is an attempt to lessen the possible impact to a community and its citizens by identifying potential hazards and planning responses to the events and hazards identified.
What types of hazard should be addressed in a Hazard Mitigation Plan?
Typically, the types of hazards most frequently encountered in Alaska that should be addressed in a Hazard Plan are: Floods (coastal storms and/or surges, tsunamis, river flooding), Wildfires, Snow Avalanches, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Weather, Landslides, Erosion, and Technological.
What happens if a community does not have a Hazard Mitigation Plan on November 1, 2004?
FEMA will continue to make planning funds available; however, not having a plan in place can jeopardize possible grant funding that requires a community to have a plan in place in order to qualify. The November 1, 2004 deadline is not a "drop-dead" deadline. When that date has come and gone, it won't mean the end of planning assistance. Communities can and should continue to develop and adopt plans after that date and funds to support that planning will continue to be made available by the FEMA.
Under current federal regulations, there are two consequences or limitations if a community is included in a declaration of a major disaster and does not have an approved local mitigation plan. The limitations are distinguished by whether a community may apply for or may receive Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds:
What is the hazard mitigation planning process?
The process used to develop the mitigation plan is just as important as the plan itself. Public involvement in the planning process is vital. The planning process seeks contributors' comments during the drafting stage and prior to plan approval. The minimum standards for FEMA approval of a plan are documented public involvement through meetings, participation of other affected agencies, incorporation of applicable existing plans, a risk assessment, a mitigation strategy, plan maintenance procedures, and formal adoption of the plan. As is the case with other planning efforts, the actual process of planning is as important as the resultant plan. Document the planning process in the plan and include a strategy for revising the plan as changes occur.
How is a Hazard Mitigation Plan created?
The planning must start locally to be most effective. The federal law that mandates the creation of a Hazard Mitigation Plan in order to qualify for assistance also appropriates planning grant funds to implement this law. Federal HMGP planning funds have certain conditions in the grant regarding the process to be used and information to be included in the plan. This process is spelled out in detail on the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management web-site and the FEMA web-site. ADES provides technical assistance for planning and FEMA has produced a CD that contains a sample of an approved plan and training guides to assist in the development of a local plan.
What type of planning assistance is available for hazard mitigation planning?
FEMA and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have detailed websites providing information and guidance on the planning process, including "how to" guides on the mitigation planning process. ADHS&EM also provides detailed technical assistance upon request to all local government entities (municipal and tribal) during the planning process.
FEMA mitigation "how-to" guides cover various topics. Following is a list of available guides:
structures and cultural resources (FEMA 386-6);
What level of detail should be provided in mitigation plans with respect to benefit/cost calculations for projects?
The short answer to this question is "it depends." The long answer is: According to DMA interim final regulations, (44 CFR §201.6(c)(3)(iii)), local mitigation plans must contain a strategy (or action plan) whereby "Prioritization shall include a special emphasis on the extent to which benefits are maximized according to a cost benefit review of the proposed projects and their associated costs."
This is not intended to require a full-blown cost-benefit calculation within the plan document. However, one of the many issues to consider in deciding what type of mitigation action(s) to pursue is an economic assessment of the particular action. This (and the other considerations) should be debated and discussed as part of the planning team's and or larger community's decision-making process. A possible result of these local discussions could be the decision to complete a formal cost/benefit evaluation of the various mitigation actions proposed. This is not, however, required to be included in the plan. As long as the economic considerations are summarized in the plan document as part of the community's analysis (44 CFR §201.6(c)(3)(ii)), that would be sufficient. When seeking funding for a particular mitigation action, the detailed benefit/cost calculation would be required as described under the various grant program regulations.
As stated in 44 CFR §201.6(c)(2), the risk assessment should provide enough information to enable the jurisdiction to identify appropriate mitigation actions. The risk assessment must include a description of the vulnerability and include the potential impact of each hazard to the community. This type of information can be described in many ways, but must be based on the best available data.
What happens after the community prepares its Hazard Mitigation Plan?
After the community develops its plan, the plan is submitted to the state ADHS&EM for initial review and coordination. Following is a synopsis of the State/FEMA "Plan Approval Process" and formal adoption of the plan by the local governing body.
State "review and coordination" - Plans must be submitted to the State Hazard Mitigation Officer for initial review and coordination." 44 CFR Part 201.6(d).
FEMA "review and approval" - After the state reviews the plan the state will then send the plan to the appropriate FEMA Regional Office for formal review and approval. Regional review will be completed within 45 days after receipt from the state, whenever possible 44 CFR Part 201.6(d). FEMA reviews the plan for compliance with 44 CFR part 201 plan criteria. If the plan criteria is not met, the local governing body will revise the plan and resubmit for review. If the plan criteria are met, then the governing body formally adopts the plan in compliance with local law regarding plan adoption.
After the plan is formally adopted, it is sent back to the state and FEMA to verify that the plan was formally adopted. If everything is in compliance, FEMA approves the plan. The approved plan should be reviewed for updates at least every five years.
In addition to the actual dollar amounts, the costs in loss and damage are simply too high to wait and address the effects of disasters only after they happen. State and federal aid cannot make communities or their residents whole after disasters. Most Alaska disasters do not rise to a federal Presidential disaster declaration. Mitigation planning can help a community become more sustainable and disaster-resistant through selecting the most appropriate mitigation measures, based on the knowledge gained in the hazard identification and loss estimation process. Local governments can prevent a surprising amount of damage from hazards if time is taken to anticipate where and how they occur and appropriate action is taken to minimize damages. The result is lessened impact from disasters and the response and recovery process is improved for both natural and manmade hazards.
The most meaningful steps in avoiding the impacts of hazards are taken at the local level by officials and community members who have a personal stake in the outcome and the ability to follow through on a sustained process of planning and implementation. Hazard planning also needs to be integrated into other aspects of community plan development.
Sample Local Emergency Planning Committee Plans
Alaska Statutes (see "Current Alaska Statutes")