In 2000, Congress passed the Disaster Mitigation Act to break cycles of destruction and rebuilding caused by natural disasters, the law required local government to plan for possible damage and mitigation long before it actually happens.
Hazard mitigation, senior project manager Scott Choquette of Dewberry Engineers told a gathering of Old Lyme commission heads and emergency services professionals at a Wednesday meeting in Town Hall, could include “any action that you take to reduce or mitigate the impacts of disasters over the long term.”
That includes structural updates like elevating buildings near to the coastline, adding culverts, repairing bridges or policy updates, for example incentivizing homeowners to buy disaster insurance.
This year, the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) is compiling a unified Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan for 15 of its member towns. It will require regular updates to maintain full eligibility for disaster mitigation grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Old Lyme adopted its most recent Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2014.
Among member towns, Old Saybrook and Westbrook have already completed recent updates, said RiverCOG environmental planner Margot Burns in a Thursday phone interview.
Local planning includes specific actions that individual boards, commissions, and departments can take to prepare for natural disasters. The Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Government’s website hosts the current plans in place for each of its member towns.
In the coming months, officials in charge of updating the plan will host public meetings, conduct a local survey, and solicit public comment online. When complete, the regional plan will include separate annexes for each member town tailored to specific local issues.
“FEMA’s preference is the more people who are involved the better,” said Choquette, “and it makes sense because they want the whole town to know what’s going on and they want support for the ideas that are brought to the table.”
Choquette said that mitigation is not “preparedness, response and recovery. This is about proactive, ahead-of-the-game steps. It’s not about fire trucks and all of the other important things that you would need to respond [to emergencies]. It’s more about prevention up front.”
The planning also would not address manmade disasters like oil spills, chemical spills, some types of fires, or terrorism, he said.
“We’re really focused on floods and extreme winds and winter storms and earthquakes and droughts,” Choquette said.
Once the plan is ready, it will be sent to FEMA and the state’s Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for review.
Burns said that the next round of grant funding available to the towns is expected in fall 2020, and the COG aims to have the plans ready in the summer.