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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Session Title:  Mitigation Successes on the Ground

Date/Time:      Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:30-2:45pm

Moderator:      Darrin Punchard, Senior Project Manager, AECOM

Speakers:

  • Timothy Trautman, Flood Mitigation Program Manager, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, North Carolina
  • Christina Randall, Wildfire Mitigation Administrator, Colorado Springs Fire Department, Colorado

Recorder:    Stacy Franklin Robinson, Senior Planner, Atkins

Darrin Punchard began the session by welcoming those in attendance and providing a brief introduction for Tim Trautman who serves as Flood Mitigation Program Manager for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services in North Carolina.

8A    

Tim Trautman began his presentation by explaining that there have been a lot of challenges and successes in Charlotte/Mecklenburg with flood hazards.  He explained that the community has solutions for some challenges and still has other issues it is trying to solve.

He said Charlotte/Mecklenburg experienced two floods in the 1990s that prompted a public outcry and triggered a need for action.  He said the community decided to deal with two issues:  1) address existing problems or “sins of the past,” and 2) to prevent from adding to the problem in the future as Charlotte continued to develop.  He said the community decided to make changes to the way it developed its floodplains and to implement many features such as better planning and no adverse impact techniques.  He said Charlotte leaders were asked, “What could our floodplains look like when Charlotte is built out?”  He noted that the National Flood Insurance Program, NFIP, looks at the present but communities should also be looking into their future.  He said Charlotte/Mecklenburg created maps of future conditions floodplains using adopted land use plans to estimate future conditions and incorporate them into Flood Insurance Rate Maps, FIRMs, and use those to regulate development.  He said several challenges were encountered in this process, such as:

  • How do you regulate existing construction by future standards?  How do you communicate it to homeowners?
  • What assumptions are you making in developing the maps?  How do you get buy-in on those assumptions?
  • How are you going to maintain the data as plans change and structures are added, moved, etc?
  • How can they meet the need to educate the stakeholders on the difference between the FEMA regulations and the City regulations which are more stringent?

He said that in order to address existing flood problems, a thorough plan was needed, thus Charlotte/Mecklenburg is in the process of finalizing a new Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction Plan, created in digital form so it can be updated frequently as properties change or new information becomes available.  He said the new plan is used to guide the Capital Improvement Program and determine where mitigation should be applied, based on flood risk and other community priorities.

Mr. Trautman said Charlotte/Mecklenburg has had several successes over the last 12 years, including the removal of 250 buildings/homes in floodplains and relocation of over 450 families, 120 acres of floodplains restored, and $5.5 million in water quality projects implemented.  He stated that areas have flooded many times since they were mitigated and damages have been avoided to hundreds of buildings.  He said the cumulative investment, and benefits in mitigation comparison clearly show the value of these efforts, with expenditures of about $49 million and predictions to avoid $280 million in losses.  He reported successful areas of mitigation include Little Sugar Creek area and Westfield Road as well as the Cullman Avenue buyout.  Mr. Trautman said that a couple efforts had been funded locally, without federal or state assistance and that the community developed a pre-disaster recovery plan that helps foster greater resources, increases political will and helps accomplish cost savings.  He said Charlotte/Mecklenburg implemented a locally funded “Quick Buy” in 2008 after flooding from Tropical Storm Fay, which was not a federally declared disaster.  He said the program offered pre-disaster market value to property owners to mitigate flooded areas through buyouts that took place three to four months after the flood event, with about 50 properties acquired.  He said Charlotte/Mecklenburg used this same process to buy another 22 flood damaged homes after flooding in 2011.

Next, Iain Hyde from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management introduced Christina Randall as the Wildfire Mitigation Administrator for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

8B    

Christina Randall began her presentation by describing the systematic approach Colorado Springs uses for wildfire mitigation including elements such as wildfire hazard risk assessment, education and outreach, fuels management, development review, fire behavior analysis, bans and warnings.  She described the fire history of Colorado Springs, particularly the average fire return interval which is about fifty years, and the geographic pattern, with most of the city’s wildland-urban interface being located west of Interstate 25.

Ms. Randall explained the city’s Wildfire Hazard Risk Assessment, which uses the Wildfire Hazard Information Extraction (WHINFOE) model that processes twenty-five (25) weighted values.  She said there was some initial concern about making this data publicly available as residents were afraid that their insurance rates might rise as a result of the risk identification, but it was made public and has not resulted in increased insurance rates.  She said the map can be found at http://csfd.springsgov.com.   Ms. Randall discussed education and outreach, noting the primary audience is adults who buy homes, while fuel management is typically undertaken through stewardship with property owners, and most mitigation work is performed on private lands by private owners.  She said the city manages common areas and open spaces, and protects city-owned assets.  She said for forested areas, the city prefers not to clear-cut or cut fire breaks and feels that this selective approach works best, in combination with fuels management.  She noted that development review in done through the city’s Hillside Ordinance, which looks at hardening at the beginning of development instead of waiting to mitigate later.  Ms. Randall said the city also has a citywide Class A Roof Ordinance, with over 50,000 roofs having been mitigated through this effort.

She offered lessons learned thus far:

  • It is more effective to educate adults about wildfire mitigation than children because adults are the primary decision makers in development as well as individual property mitigation.
  • Enforcement is unpopular but education has proved successful in encouraging property owners to mitigate.
  • Those residents who understand their risk are more motivated to mitigate it.
  • Detractors can be champions if they are educated on the benefits of what the local government is trying to accomplish.  Conversely, developers and realtors are important to helping this cause.

8 Q/A

Darrin Punchard invited audience members to ask questions of the panelists.

Kamer Davis asked Tim Trautman–Are owners of properties not located in the Special Flood Hazard Area buying flood insurance? Tim Trautman replied that the City has not studied this yet but indicated that some of the future floodplains are dropping as a result of recent map updates and the City promotes flood insurance widely.

Ken Topping asked Christina Randall—Did dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs hinder the response to the recent Waldo Canyon Wildfire?  Christina Randall replied that they affected evacuation traffic but really didn’t impact firefighting access because the fire department had worked with the neighborhoods previously and knew their access points and barriers.

Tim Trautman noted that there are similarities between what the Charlotte/Mecklenburg stormwater agency has experienced and the Colorado fire risk issues and how good data and maps are sometimes opposed due to fear of publicly available data and its potential implications.

Barry Hokanson asked Tim Trautman—Is there an association where stormwater staff with Charlotte/Mecklenburg communicate with peers in other communities to share your approach and lessons learned?  Tim Trautman replied that peer-to-peer connections are something that the city could improve upon but in one instance the city shared experiences with the City of Nashville, Tennessee, following flooding there and some of the Charlotte/Mecklenburg ideas were employed by Nashville.

Iain Hyde asked—How is Colorado Springs doing more with less in terms of matching grant funds?  Christina Randall replied that the city’s match was partially provided by recording expenditures for its chipping crew, fuels crew, fuels technician and program coordinator and by tracking projects in the private sector too.  She said the City tracks individual mitigation activities in neighborhoods and counts those efforts as grant match also.

Nathan Slaughter asked—Do people from other communities ask to see successful PDM applications by Colorado Springs?  Christina Randall replied no, the city does not share it because they achieve the grant match by working with neighborhoods to capture time/materials costs, so it is very specific to Colorado Springs.