Natural Hazard Mitigation Association
Proceedings
Doing More with Less:
Mitigation in a Changing Environment
2012 International Hazard Mitigation Practitioners Workshop
July 17-18, 2012
Omni Interlocken Resort
Broomfield, Colorado

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6   

Session Title:  The Challenge of Making Mitigation Matter

Date/Time:        Wednesday, July 18, 2012                          1:30-2:45 p.m.

Moderator:        Erin Capps, Project Manager, H2O Partners, Inc.

Speakers:  

  • Chris White, Chief Operations Officer, Anchor Point Group, LLC
  • Roy Wright, Deputy Director, Risk Analysis, Federal Insurance and Mitigation, Administration (FIMA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Rhonda Price, Committee Coordinator, Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA), Coastal Community Resilience Priority Issue Team
  • Walter Peacock, Professor and Director, Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, Texas A&M University

Recorder:         French Wetmore, President, French & Associates, Ltd.

6A    

Chris White was previously employed by Boulder County, Colorado, but is now with Anchor Point Group, a company of fire managers and fire scientists.  He noted the trends that more people are “moving to the woods,” i.e., the wildland urban interface and that, while there are fewer wildfires, they are bigger.  He said June 2012 saw the second highest number of acres burned and the third least number of fires.  He explained this is not just a U.S.  problem, as there have been killer fires recently in Russia, Australia and Israel.

Mr. White said Anchor Point has developed No-HARM, the National Hazard and Risk Model, which maps the country’s “firesheds” – areas of similar exposure to fire hazard.  He said instead of mapping historic fires, its fire behavior modeling accounts for factors such as development, ground cover, distance to fire stations, and likelihood of fire or embers from high hazard areas to threaten adjacent lower hazard areas.  He stated the model can show “ember zones,” areas that do not match the traditional wildfire susceptibility profile that are at risk from neighboring areas.

Mr. White described how No-HARM identifies 22 million firesheds that average 175 acres each.  He said the model reports that 45% of the US population is at risk from wildfire, with 14% of the population in “high,” “very high,” and “extreme” hazard areas.  Mr. White suggested No-HARM can help with wildfire management in three ways:

  1. It provides objective data that can help policy, prioritize efforts and funding based on scientific data, instead of subjective grant writing
  2. It can provide data to show the value of mitigation measures.
  3. It can be used for more accurate benefit/cost analyses.

6B    

Roy Wright manages FEMA’s Risk MAP program (“MAP” stands for Mapping, Assessment, and Planning).  He said the program’s annual surveys of citizens and local officials find a difference of opinion of their communities’ flood risk (45% of the citizens and 68% of the officials feel their communities are at risk).  He said the objective of Risk MAP is to get people to understand their risk, not just know where the boundary of the water hazard.  Mr. Wright suggested that those who understand their risk are more likely to do something about it.

Mr. Wright explained that when FEMA staff meet with local officials, they expect more than the mapping engineers to participate, especially including community development staff, the mayor’s office, the Chamber of Commerce, and others who drive actions in the community.  He said FEMA has found that people get their information from the news media and their local officials, so FEMA wants to get those officials into the middle of the process, not only telling people about the hazard, but also what they can do about it.  He said this work is being done more at the watershed level.

Mr. Wright said FEMA has a new program called “Know Your Line,” that involves setting high water marks in public places, supported by seven federal agencies and 12 pilot communities.  He said the water marks are usually set on public buildings, with a goal of helping individuals see the relation between flooding and their neighborhoods or their own homes—rather than a theoretical concept shown on a map.  He said the program will be sensitive to local concerns as it aims to improve local recognition of flood risk.

6C    

Rhonda Price works for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and is the leader of the community resilience team of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA).  She explained that GOMA represents the five Gulf states (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL) and a variety of federal agencies.  She said the mission of the team is to “coordinate and enhance efforts of local, state, federal, business and non-profit partners to assist coastal communities and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico region in becoming more resilient in structure and function.” She said GOMA defines resilience as “the capacity of both social and environment systems to adapt to and recover from change.”

Ms. Price said GOMA’s team has developed five tools to help communities become resilient:

  1. StormSmart Coasts is a web-based clearinghouse.  There is one for each of the five states with state-specific information on tools, funding, and case studies.  It is a “one stop shop for coastal decision makers” with guidance on what to do before, during and after a coastal storm.
  2. StormSmart Connect is a networking site for decision makers, with over 250 registered users.  Users can send messages, share files, form groups with similar concerns, and plan events.
  3. The Resilience Index is a self-assessment that can identify community strengths and weaknesses and is designed to get users to think about the problems in their communities.
  4. Each of the five states will have its own Homeowner Handbooks. 
  5. Sea-Level Rise Modeling (www.csc.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/slrviewer) shows users the areas impacted by various scenarios and includes social and economic data.

6D    

Walter Peacock is a professor at Texas A&M University and director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.  He reviewed the findings of a recent project by the university that surveyed planning directors, city managers, and mayors of 26 counties and 98 municipalities which represented 90% of the population in coastal Texas.  He said the survey sought to find out which of 44 mitigation measures were used by the communities, with results organized in ten categories:

  1. Development Regulation and Land Use Management (7 measures)
  2. Limiting shoreline development and activities (3)
  3. Building Standards (5)
  4. Natural Resource Protection (5)
  5. Public Information and awareness (5)
  6. Incentives tools for environmentally sensitive/hazardous area (5)
  7. Property acquisition programs (3)
  8. Financial tools (3)
  9. Critical public & private facility policies (3)
  10. Private-public sector initiatives (5)

Dr.  Peacock said the study found that only 15 of the 44 measures were used to any degree, and of the top three (National Flood Insurance Program, building codes, and flood protection standards), two are driven by the federal government.  He said the study’s main conclusion is that communities are using a “limited portfolio” of mitigation measures.

Dr.  Peacock discussed three factors that influence the use of the measures:

  1. Planning authority:  larger cities were more comprehensive while counties have limited authority.
  2. Capacity:  more data, funds, community support, and staff mean more mitigation.
  3. Commitment:  buy-in can be measured by agreements, staffing levels, and involvement of others.

He said #3, commitment, is the most important influence for achieving mitigation.

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