NEWS

First meeting held for the formulation of a two-county disaster mitigation plan

Kim Dunne

An orientation meeting was held Thursday morning to introduce emergency responders and county and town representatives to the Herkimer and Hamilton County Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The program is being administered through the state Emergency Management Office. The grant Herkimer County received is $100,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency towards putting together this program.

The all-hazards mitigation plan would identify potential hazards and problem areas created by natural disasters, flooding and different types of manmade disasters. The plan would help the county and municipalities identify the main problems and what can be done to correct these problems.

The meeting, held at Herkimer County Community College, was packed with everyone from school board members and town councilmen to firefighters, local police agencies and state police.

“This is an amazing turn out,” said Dr. Thomas D. Phelan, president of Strategic Teaching Associates Inc., who is facilitating the planning process of the program. “It shows me that Herkimer County really wants to get involved with this.”

Phelan and Edward Lips from SEMO discussed what the point of the program is and the benefits it would have for Herkimer County in the long run.

There are four phases to the program:

€ Preparedness: activities, programs and systems developed and implemented prior to disasters or emergencies.

€ Response: activities designed to address the immediate and short-term effects of disasters or emergencies.

€ Recovery: Activities and programs designed to return conditions to a level that is acceptable to the community.

€ Mitigation: Long-term actions taken to eliminate or reduce the effects of disasters or emergencies prior to or after such events.

Both Phelan and Lips recommend putting together a planning committee, made up of representatives from every municipality in the county, as well as county representatives to put together this plan.

Once a plan is put in place, the county can apply for funds through FEMA that would enable it to receive funding to fix problems such as roads that wash out during storms or collapsed bridges. Also if the area sees another major flood like it did in 2006, more funds may be available to the county for clean up.

Lips says the benefits to having a mitigation plan in place are: it will help save lives, protect property, limit the economic impact, limit social and psychological impact and reduce disaster response and recovery costs.

The steps involved in creating a plan include risk assessment, mitigation plan development, plan adoption and plan implementation, monitoring and maintenance.

The risk assessment area is where the planning committee identify hazards that could affect the community and profile the hazards, which would be identifying those that pose the greatest threat to a municipality or the county as a whole.

The plan development consists of developing the goals and objectives of the plan, identifying and prioritizing the actions that will be taken, and preparing an implementation strategy and action plan.

For plan adoption, approval, implementation and maintenance the plan has to be sent to FEMA for approval. Then each town board has to adopt the plan via a board resolution. The plan can then be implemented and monitored. It must be updated and resubmitted every five years.

Lips says the state is on a pretty tight deadline as FEMA wants a rough draft of the plan by November 2008.

Many at the meeting expressed interest in continuing with this process and being a part of the planning committee.

Phelan says that any entity or person that could not attend the meeting but wants to participate can contact Director of Emergency Management, Robert Vandawalker at 867-1212.

“This is open to anyone and everyone,” Phelan said.