FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grants Helping Fla. Build Stronger After Storms

January 6, 2006

As Florida recovers from a historic eight hurricanes in a span of just 15 months, funds provided through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) will help communities rebuild stronger, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and Florida’s Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) announced.

A joint review process developed by FEMA and FDEM in the wake of the 2004 Hurricane Season has resulted in more than $17.3 million awarded for projects related to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne within a mere six months of the state’s application deadline.

“We greatly appreciate FEMA’s ongoing partnership in helping our communities to recover and rebuild after two record-setting seasons,” said Florida Director of Emergency Management Craig Fugate. “Hazard Mitigation Grants allow local governments across the state to lessen the risk from future disasters, such as hurricanes, which are a fact of life that all Floridians must be prepared for.”

Under HMG, FEMA, in partnership with states, makes funding available to local governments and certain other organizations to undertake projects designed to lessen the risk of damage from disasters.

“In coastal states like Florida, where tropical systems may impact from June through November each year, time is of the essence in helping communities reduce their risk of damage,” said FEMA’s Director of Florida Long-Term Recovery Scott Morris. “HMGP is a valuable resource, which – due to the strong partnership between FEMA and Florida – we have been able to provide faster than ever before.”

An independent study to assess the future benefits of hazard mitigation activities released last month by the National Institute of Building Science’s Multihazard Mitigation Council reportedly found that although risk from national disasters cannot be eliminated completely, every dollar spent on mitigation can save as much as four dollars in response and recovery.

Long-term improvements under the HMG, as opposed to reimbursement under recovery programs, do take time. Projects must meet strict requirements under local, state and federal laws dealing with a variety of issues – from historic preservation to floodplain implications.

The comprehensive reviews for technical feasibility, cost effectiveness, environmental coordination and compliance, and program eligibility are complex. But, prior to joint review, FEMA reportedly did not consider applications until the State’s review was complete. The State had between 12 and 18 months from the date of the disaster declaration to review projects and submit them to FEMA.

Since FEMA and FDEM adopted the joint review process, 91 projects have already been approved a mere 14 months after the disaster declaration. As a result of the State and FEMA working closely together on HMGP review, the number of projects approved for Florida in this amount of time is unprecedented.

Projects are approved based on priorities developed by local mitigation strategy committees and set by the state. In Florida, those priorities include, but are not limited to:

* Strengthening public facilities – which often serve as first responders’ bases of operations during disasters;
* Strengthening commercial structures – often the backbone of communities’ local economies; and
* Residential acquisition – acquiring homes that have suffered repetitive losses and are in harm’s way for future disasters.

Following the devastation of the 2004 hurricane season, a record $359 million was set aside for HMGP, a program offered by FEMA and administered by FDEM. FEMA has received more than 800 applications for the HMGP following the 2004 season – another record.

The HMGP is administered by the state, with projects funded 75 percent by FEMA and 25 percent by the applicant. Applicants include the State of Florida, local governments and private non-profits. Most applications are for wind retrofit, elevation, acquisition and demolition, and drainage projects.

More than ninety projects have been funded so far statewide and in the following 25 counties: Alachua, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Holmes, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Okaloosa, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, St. Johns and Volusia. Among projects funded are 63 wind retrofit projects totaling nearly $6.2 million, including:

* More than $890,000 for Hernando County’s Emergency Operations Center;
* More than $870,000 for Martin County’s Public Safety Complex; and
* More than $723,000 to retrofit fire and police stations throughout the state.

Also funded are 21 acquisition projects of vulnerable structures totaling more than $3.9 million, and another $7.2 million have been awarded to the state for measures such as:

* Supporting the state’s ability to manage the HMGP;
* Evaluating resources needed at special needs shelters; and
* Educating the public about natural hazards through a partnership with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) and Disney’s Epcot.

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