Mitigation Planning Helping Ohio Community

March 15, 2005

The City of Eaton in Preble County, Ohio, is heartland America — a place where Main Street U.S.A. still thrives and on a rainy, mid-week, winter afternoon old men sit around a pool hall table playing cards while county officials gather in Eaton Fire Station No 2 to find out about snow removal reimbursement.

Fire station memorabilia line the walls- framed pictures of fire trucks, fire station complement photos, a corkboard filled with other firefighting units’ shoulder patches.

But what reportedly really draws the eyes of emergency management professionals in the room is the tabletop display sitting on a side table that presents Preble County’s long-term mitigation plan.

It’s a simple but effective presentation – an about 4 foot by four foot Styrofoam sheet scored so the ends can be slanted inward. The center panel holds a Preble County map. The sidewalls hold details of 18 projects – one project per 8 by 11-inch sheet – that could make Preble County more disaster resistant. Lines from each project sheet to the map show their location in the county.

In these days of high tech, PowerPoint presentations, this is a decidedly low-tech solution to getting one’s message out; but, in some ways, the message is more powerful because of that. The creators know their audience and adapted a message delivery system appropriate for that audience.

It is at this level, the county level, that the rubber of mitigation planning meets the road. At the national level, concepts and funding streams are created. At the state level, those concepts and funding streams are implemented. But it is at the county and local levels that those concepts and funding streams are put into effect.

Preble County’s mitigation plan assesses the county’s vulnerabilities to natural or man-made disasters. Chief among them are tornadoes, floods and severe winter weather. Also assessed are measures the county could adopt to lessen the impact – or mitigate -such disasters. Total cost of the 18 projects is about $32 million.

Those costs run from the realizable — $18 to $20,000 for a tornado warning siren in West Elkton, a community of about 600 – to long range, hope chest projects, such as $25 million to put five levee/dam/temporary water diversion projects on the county’s main watershed.

Charlie Biggs, director of the Preble County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said, the plan was created to ensure that Preble County would be eligible to participate in future Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) projects. A 2002 change in the law governing national emergency management procedures requires all counties in the United States to have a mitigation plan to participate in HMGP, “If you don’t have a plan, you can’t get any money,” Biggs said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Ohio administer the HMGP. If a major federal disaster is declared in Ohio, a certain percentage of funds will be added to FEMA response and recovery costs to fund measures that will reduce damages from future events. This is called mitigation.

FEMA provided a $27,000 grant to Preble County to create a county mitigation plan. The plan had to be approved in place Nov. 1, 2004. “It was really good investment, too,” Biggs said.

“I’ve been a resident of Preble County for 57 years, but I have only been in this job two years,” he said. “Working with the contracting company that put the plan together and the committee we formed to oversee the plan creation was a real eye opener for me and the other committee members.

“We found out so much about the county, it vulnerabilities and what we can do about them,” he said. “It was really a great learning experience and well worth the time and money.”

That’s why he created the presentation on the plan. “I thought other folks should know about what we learned,” he said, “and I thought they could see it better if there was something visual to show them.”

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