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Why Mitigation Matters to All

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

By Romeo Lavarias
September 30, 2021

Populations that suffer from wildfires in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, flooding in the Northeast and hurricanes in the South all share one thing in common… they all want their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. In response, governments are now turning to their emergency managers to help guide them in all phases of emergency management: prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. While the general population is aware of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery through the media and general awareness, mitigation is the one critical phase that escapes the attentiveness and understanding of the masses. Mitigation can have a drastic impact on the quality of life (by determining the rate of response of recovery) for all in the aftermath of a disaster. In fact, it can dictate how disastrous an impact an incident will have on the population. Therefore, it is proposed that mitigation efforts should be at the forefront of all governments’ focus when it comes to disasters. Governments should be taking the following actions if they hope to be able to withstand the unprecedented number of disasters that they will face: 1) Make resiliency a critical feature of their culture; 2) Improve their Community Rating System (CRS); 3) Create a Mitigation Plan.

Resiliency is akin to building muscle in your body. We seek to tone and strengthen our bodies through strength training. In the process of strength training, we tear down muscle for it to grow back stronger. It’s hard work that takes time and consistency. Building resiliency in an organization is no different. In fact, organizations do it all the time when new technologies must be implemented, new laws and regulations require different ways of working and new staff bring in different ways of doing business. All involve making the organization more resilient against competitors, outside economic forces beyond their control and those that seek to weaken it to gain an advantage. So, governments must embrace the constancy of change and look upon it as becoming a better, stronger organization.

Second, governments must seek to actively improve their Community Rating System (CRS). According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “The CRS is a voluntary, incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management practices that exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Over 1,500 communities currently participate nationwide.” With flooding being one of the most dangerous and predominant aspects of a disaster, a community with a low CRS score can effectively reduce the flood insurance premiums of their residents by 1) reducing and avoiding flood damage to insurable property and 2) foster comprehensive floodplain management throughout its jurisdiction.

Third, governments must organize their resources to build and maintain resiliency through their own mitigation plan. By having such a plan, governments assess their risks and look to reduce loss of life and property by minimizing the impact of disasters. By identifying such risks, long term strategies can be developed that will protect people and property from disaster events. Strategies that governments will examine often include reviewing and possibly amending their land use codes and/or building codes. The change in land use and/or building codes will dictate what types of structures will be allowed to be built on certain land use categories as well as how they will be constructed to withstand the impacts of disasters, such as flooding, high winds, etc. It is interesting to note that some governments have expanded their mitigation plans towards resiliency of other aspects for their area and residents. These include addressing climate adaptation issues, economic shocks to its base industries, social unrest derived from competing interests, pandemics, etc.

Hurricane season 2021 is predicted to be just as busy and robust as last year’s season, which set a record for the number of hurricanes in a season. According to Dr. Paul Sutton at the University of Denver, “As climate change continues, the earth has heated up sufficiently to produce rising sea levels and warmer oceans, which in the past 20 years has triggered even more severe and frequent storms, inflicting and increasing loss of property.” It therefore becomes obvious that mitigation must be made a priority for all governments. Advancing this notion is the Biden administration, which has announced on August 8, 2021, $3.46 billion in hazard mitigation funds to reduce the effects of climate change. So those governments that take the initiative to make mitigation a priority will be in position to take advantage of applying for the funding. The first step is recognizing this and making it part of the government’s culture to actively address it.

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. 

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