Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Successful Hazard Mitigation Planning Starts at the Local Level: How It Is Failing at the Local Level

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Romeo B. Lavarias
October 27, 2023

According to the October 12, 2023 Pew article titled, “What’s Driving the Boom in Billion-Dollar Disasters? A Lot”, major weather disasters are becoming increasingly common and costly. In fact, currently in 2023 the United States has already endured 23-billion-dollar disasters, surpassing the 2020 record of 20 such costly disasters with three more months left in the year. As these disasters become the “new normal”, it is imperative that all levels of government must work towards stemming these disasters’ impacts. One method that all levels of government (FEMA, states, tribal and territorial, counties and cities) utilize is local hazard mitigation planning.

However, mitigation is one of the most critical (and most poorly understood) phases of emergency management at all levels. The phase encompasses the development of plans that outline the natural disaster risks identified by a local government, and then developing long-term strategies to reduce the negative impact of disasters on people and the built environment. According to FEMA, the role of hazard mitigation planning is to “reduce loss of life and property by minimizing the impact of disasters.” So, FEMA’s efforts at developing hazard mitigation planning are to provide “how-to” information and mitigation grant funding to states and local governments to accomplish the goal. FEMA relies on states to aid all local governments in their efforts of implementing successful mitigation plans, measures and/or projects. However, the quality of county LMS plans has declined to the point where information is often outdated, the data calculations are suspect and are written in a way that provides no direction that can aid cities in making mitigation successful. Lending to this ineffective environment are states that only provide minimal reviews to only ensure that FEMA minimum standards are met.

To start the LMS process, counties create a Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS) Plan where all cities within its jurisdiction formally adopt it through a city commission resolution that accepts their respective county’s LMS Plan as their own. The LMS Plan is completed every five (5) years. During those five (5) years, counties (and their respective cities) supposedly will have various meetings with subcommittees created to address different facets of the LMS Plan and work on updates to the LMS Plan. 

In truth, the subcommittee meetings are held sporadically so there is no input by cities on what is developing within its boundaries that may have an impact on mitigation. In fact, mitigation efforts don’t really start until the middle of the 4th year when counties will feverishly work toward updating the previous LMS Plan on its own without any of the cities’ input. The final product is a LMS Plan that does not properly reflect the natural disaster risks but must be adopted by cities to be eligible for mitigation grant funding from the state and FEMA. Since the poorly written LMS Plan is not referred to for mitigation direction, it leads to haphazard mitigation efforts by cities. So rather than cities working and collaborating because they share the same disaster risks such as a common thoroughfare that goes through several cities and always floods, each city will fend for themselves towards justifying more hazard mitigation grant funding for itself. 

Lending to the local mitigation strategy dysfunction is the role that states play in this situation. States see their role in local mitigation strategy plan development to only ensure that counties’ LMS Plan complies with the minimum FEMA standards. There is no further review of counties’ LMS Plans, which they assert is the responsibility of a county and their respective cities. 

So, with a county whose LMS Plan provides no assistance or direction towards improving mitigation, and only essentially provides a “check-the-box” requirement for cities to be eligible for mitigation grant funding, and a State that only ensures minimum standards are complied, how is mitigation ever going to rise to the level that is necessary to mitigate these costly disasters? How are cities that lack the resources and supposed mitigation expertise that county and State personnel possess, able to implement successful mitigation measures? 

The following recommendations are proposed to address this dilemma:

  • Nix the requirement that cities must adopt their county’s LMS Plan if a city can create its own.
  • Allocate Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) monies that mostly go to the States/Counties towards cities to encourage them to conduct their own LMS Plan.
  • Provide mitigation training to cities responsible for their LMS Plan. 

The increasing prevalence and cost of billion-dollar disasters should be a wake-up call for all levels of government that the status quo on LMS planning is no longer a viable model. The mantra that “all disasters are local” holds true not only for the disaster, but on how cities can mitigate the disaster.

Author: Romeo is the Emergency Manager for the City of Miramar, FL and is an Adjunct Professor for Barry University’s Public Administration Program where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. He is a Certified Emergency Manager through the International Association of Emergency Managers. His research interests include emergency management, homeland security, ethics, and performance measurement. 

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 2.25 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *