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Does Your Hazard Mitigation Plan Really Take into Consideration The Short and Long Term Economic Development Impacts of A Disaster?

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, hazard mitigation is any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and their property from hazards. In other words, actions that help to ensure the impacts of a natural hazard, such as a flood, are reduced. Hazard mitigation planning is the process that State, Tribal, and local governments use to identify risks and vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters, and to develop long-term strategies for protecting people, property, and their community from future hazard events.

As economic development and planning professionals responsible for creating an environment conducive to positive economic vitality and high quality of life, we often find ourself in reactive mode following major events. Those events may vary from a large company layoff to natural disasters such as tornadoes and flooding. In all circumstances the short and long-term impacts can be devastating. We must be prepared for these situations so that the recovery is achievable and with minimal negative impact. We must ensure that our efforts at economic development take the potential for natural disasters into account, so that we design resilient systems and reduce negative economic impacts in the future.

Regions, communities, and local jurisdictions often have plans for economic development marketing, future land use, hazard mitigation, emergency management, housing, infrastructure, and other areas of interest but all too often these plans are not adopted and implemented so that they work together, let alone in a time of emergency. We are missing a tremendous opportunity to leverage time, resources, and even funding opportunities. Now more than ever, you must have your plans aligned and in a manner that considers all aspects of hazard mitigation. For example: You may be looking at building a new substation to serve a newly developed industrial area. Is that substation in the safest possible location relative to natural hazard risk? Do the facilities being served have backup electric supply? Can the area be developed with that in mind? What happens if the industries served by it are without power for a day, a week, or several months? Will they or your community have implementable plans in place? Employment loss, utility revenues, and reduced economic activities will have negative impacts on the community and entire region.

Recent natural disasters have highlighted the need for plans which are closely interconnected and well implemented. The planning process recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is as critical, or even more so, as the actual completed plan. The process creates a frame work for government entities to reduce the negative impacts from future disasters on lives, property, and the economy. It creates an avenue for interaction between those who work in public safety and those who work in economic development.

Mitigation planning includes the following elements: public involvement, hazard identification, risk assessment, assessment of capabilities, and the development of a mitigation strategy. This process increases public awareness and understanding of the vulnerabilities as well as support for specific actions to reduce loss from future natural disasters. Partnerships with the many stakeholders will be formed which in turn maximizes opportunities to leverage data and resources during planning and in time of need. It is an opportunity to educated community organizations and businesses in what they can do to ensure their own business continuity and in what risks they should be planning for.

I ask you to ask yourself and your colleagues, "Does your hazard mitigation plan really take into consideration the short and long term economic development impacts?" "Does your comprehensive plan really take hazards into account?" "Do your economic development efforts ensure that development will be resilient?" Don’t take no for an answer. Be proactive and be the catalyst for your community, county, and region to be prepared when the need arises. Companies recognize the need for preparedness and will appreciate your attention to hazard mitigation as they complete their evaluation of existing operations and future site selection decisions.

For additional information on related planning and engineering services provided by the JEO Consulting Group team of professionals, contact Rick L. Allely, CEcD MCRP at rallely@jeo.com or 712-898-0878. 

Written by Rick Allely
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