While natural disasters may be unavoidable, the severity of their effects in terms of loss of life, personal injury, and property damage, can be lessened through coordinated planning and preventive measures.
With that goal in mind, regional and town planners have started formulating the Newtown Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, a detailed document which the town would use for disaster preparedness in acting to reduce the potential damage caused by natural disasters.
Types of disasters that the plan would cover include situations such as: the March 2010 floods, the winter snow-loading and collapsing roofs of January 2011, Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 which was followed by Tropical Storm Lee the following month, winter storm Alfred in October 2011, Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and winter storm Nemo in February 2013.
The primary natural hazards facing Newtown include floods, hurricanes, tropical storms, summer storms, tornadoes, winter storms, nor’easters, earthquakes, wildfires, and dam failures.
On April 30, David Hannon, deputy director of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO), met with town officials to discuss formulating the town’s natural hazard mitigation plan. HVCEO is the ten-town regional planning agency to which Newtown belongs.
Also, Maryellen Edwards, an environmental scientist with Milone & MacBroom, Inc, discussed the planning project. The consulting firm is working for HVCEO to develop the plan.
The Newtown Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan stems from the Disaster Mitigation Act, which was approved by Congress in 2000. That law creates a national program for “pre-disaster mitigation” or physical measures which can be taken before natural disasters occur to lessen the damage caused by natural disasters. Such measures are intended to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to people and property caused by natural disasters.
As part of the program, municipalities are required to document local vulnerabilities and risks, and also list measures which would lessen potential damage.
According to Milone & MacBroom, general steps to lessen hazards posed by natural disasters include, “elevating roads and bridges to facilitate evacuations during floods, elevating residential structures to reduce property damage … (and) acquiring open space along watercourses … to prevent development in flood-prone areas.”
At the April 30 session, Mr Hannon said that last summer the elected leaders of the ten HVCEO member towns asked the agency to help the towns formulate their ten separate hazard mitigation plans.
Such plans typically are about 200 pages long and list the specific hazards which are faced by a given town.
Municipalities are required to develop hazard mitigation plans for eligibility to seek grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover up to 75 percent of the costs stemming from preventive projects designed to lessen the damage from natural disasters.
In Connecticut, the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection’s (DESPP) Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS) is the state agency which reviews FEMA grant applications. The state prioritizes the applications for FEMA grants.
Hazard mitigation planning does not address incidents such as terrorism and sabotage, or certain human-induced emergencies, such as some fires, hazardous material spills and the contamination caused by such spills, as well as the spread of diseases, among other incidents.
Ms Edwards explained that the FEMA grants may be used for acquiring buildings or elevating buildings above projected flood levels, replacing culverts, performing drainage improvement projects, doing riverbank stabilization, performing landslide stabilization, retrofitting against damage caused by wind, earthquakes and snow-loading, as well as installing backup electric supplies for critical facilities.
Ms Edwards said that she would be developing a draft hazard mitigation plan for Newtown in the coming months.
The plan will include comments from residents, business owners, and public officials. It will include hazard mitigation strategies. The draft plan will be prepared for review by the public and municipal officials, after which the plan would be adopted, following its local approval.
With the plan in force, the town would then be eligible to seek the FEMA hazard mitigation grants, as needed.