FEMA Urges Preparation for W. Va. Residents

West Virginians know, as well as anyone, what it is like to clean up flood damage after suffering a total of seven federally declared flood disasters in 2003 and 2004.

In the wake of the recent disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services (WVOES) have made an effort to teach citizens how to minimize the risk of future flood damage.

Emergency officials promoted the mitigation or flood damage risk reduction message in the following ways.

* Information and referral services in home improvement stores.
* Counseling visitors at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC).
* Public meetings to inform citizens about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

FEMA and state agencies have teamed up to create a disaster education system, aimed at integrating disaster information into the West Virginia public education system. In addition, the team is creating a disaster information system for community leaders.
Federal and state Public Assistance and Mitigation officials teamed up to assist in the process of rebuilding flooded roads and public facilities to resist future flood damage.

“Mitigation is the most important action those affected by flooding should think about as they repair damaged homes, roads and businesses,” said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Lou Botta. “That’s why emergency officials use multiple approaches to get the message out.”

Home Improvement Stores — FEMA Mitigation Community Education and Community Relations workers interacted with more than 7,200 patrons at several West Virginia home improvement centers. According to Community Education officials, the primary purpose of the project was to discuss low-cost repairs or remodeling that would lessen or eliminate future flood repair cost.

Disaster Recovery Center Counseling — Community education workers also counseled 2,450 FEMA applicants during DRC operations. Along with repair advice, mitigation experts also stressed the importance of flood insurance.

National Flood Insurance Program/Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Meetings — Public meetings were another opportunity FEMA and WVOES officials used to get the word out about the necessity of participation in the NFIP and the state run HMGP. During the summer the state NFIP office hosted six meetings to explain major flood insurance claims and other related issues. Also, the state mitigation office hosted numerous public HMGP meetings to explain how the program works.

“The best way to mitigate disaster damage is to begin early education before a disaster experience,” said Botta. “Our effort to work with state agencies to create a disaster education system does just that.”

Disaster Education — A disaster education system is being developed to teach West Virginia children about disasters and how to prepare for them. The project, which has been undertaken by FEMA and 18 different West Virginia state agencies, will include a disaster information CD, lesson plans that meet West Virginia Education Department standards for grades K-12. In addition, the committee is working toward creating elective classes for state colleges and universities.

Public Assistance — Federal and state officials also work to minimize flood damage costs for taxpayers. Since October 2004, FEMA and state Public Assistance in conjunction with the Mitigation Technical Services Branch have secured nearly $6.9 million in federal funds to repair flood damaged infrastructure with better construction practices making the structures more disaster resistant.

“Mitigation is the best defense against the high cost and trauma of flood damage and while many West Virginians have taken such measures many more would benefit from considering risk management,” said Botta.