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On November 6, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) launched Project Impact: Building a Disaster Resistant Community, an initiative designed to challenge the country to undertake actions that protect families, businesses and communities by reducing the effects of natural disasters.

We've got to change the way we deal with disasters. We have to break the damage-repair, damage-repair cycle. We need to have communities and businesses come together to reduce the costs and consequences of disasters. It is our number one priority at FEMA. Project Impact includes a national awareness campaign, the selection of pilot communities that demonstrate the benefits of hazard mitigation through a partnership approach, and an outreach effort to businesses and communities using a new guidebook that offers a formula for a community or business to follow to become disaster resistant.

Rationale

The increasing number and severity of natural disasters the past decade demands that action be taken to reduce the threat that hurricanes, severe storms, earthquakes, floods and wildfires impose upon the economic stability, economic future and safety of the citizens of the U.S. As the federal agency responsible for emergency management, FEMA is committed to reducing disaster losses by focusing the energy of businesses, citizens, and communities in the U.S. on the importance of reducing their susceptibility to the impact of natural disasters.

There are three primary tenets of the Project Impact initiative:

  • Mitigation is a local issue. It is best addressed through a local partnership involving government, business and private citizens.
  • Private sector participation is essential. Disasters threaten the economic and commercial growth of our cities, towns, villages and counties. Without the participation of the private sector, comprehensive solutions will not be developed.
  • Mitigation is a long-term effort that requires long-term investment. Disaster losses will not be eliminated overnight.


Methodology

Project Impact involves four distinct steps in helping a community become disaster resistant.

1) Building Community Partnerships -  The concept is simple: We can accomplish more together as a group than as individuals. The Project Impact initiative involves an unprecedented mix of groups - elected officials, federal and state disaster personnel, representatives of the local business, labor and environmental communities and citizens coming together to form the Disaster Resistant Community Planing Committee.

2) Hazard Identification and Hazard Vulnerability - The first task of the Disaster Resistant Community Planning Committee is to examine the community's risks for natural disasters and identify its vulnerabilities to those risks. This process will provide a solid background on which to build mitigation priorities.

3) Identifying and Prioritizing Risk Reduction Actions in Your Community - Based of the results of hazard identification and vulnerability assessment, a community understands the sorts of hazards that may threaten its residents, neighborhoods and businesses and the areas most likely to be hit the hardest. Also, the community should have specific details about the buildings and systems that are most at risk. Now the community needs to target resources and prioritize its mitigation actions.

4) Communicating Project Impact to Tour Disaster Resistant Community - With a plan for building a disaster resistant community based of local circumstances in place, a community must now create the support needed to make this plan a reality. This involves communicating the disaster resistant community objectives of Project Impact to community leaders and residents - to understand what the disaster resistant community initiatives are, why they are important to everyone and how to be supportive and get involved.

Pilot Communities

FEMA has worked closely with seven communities throughout the United States to develop a Project Impact plan that localities, businesses and citizens can follow to build disaster resistant communities where they, live and work.
These pilot communities include:

  • Allegany County, Maryland
  • Tucker and Randolph Counties, West Virginia
  • City of Wilmington and New Hanover County, North Carolina
  • City of Deerfield Beach and Broward County, Florida
  • City of Pascagoula and Jackson County, Mississippi
  • Cities of Oakland and Berkley, California
  • City of Seattle and King County, Washington


To date, FEMA has signed Project Impact Memorandums of Agreement with three pilot communities: Deerfield Beach, FL, Pascagoula, MS and in Wilmington, NC. We plan to enter into similar agreements with the remaining pilot communities in January and February 1998. A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement with the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County, North Carolina is presented as an example of these agreements.

Under the terms of these agreements, FEMA will provide up to $1 million in seed money to each community for disaster-resistant actions. For example, in Deerfield Beach, some of these funds will be used to put hurricane straps on the auditorium and cafeteria of Deerfield High School, which serves as a shelter during a disaster. Wind shutters will also be installed on all high school windows.

In Wilmington, all public schools in the Wilmington/New Hanover County area will be subject to engineering study to determine their vulnerability to storms. Remaining funds will be used to implement the highest priorities identified in the study.

Private Sector Partners

Local and national businesses have pledged to join the effort as well. In Deerfield Beach, for example, Home Depot produced a display on disaster relief and will offer Product Knowledge courses for local homeowners on steps they can take to protect against future storm damage. Other corporate partners participating in the Deerfield Beach Project Impact initiatives included Florida Power and Light, the Promus Hotel Corporation and the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

In Pascagoula, Merchants & Marine Bank is offering a special home improvement program through FHA Title I loans that will provide below market rates for homeowners to use for retrofit work such as workable shutters and tie downs. Other corporate partners participating in the Pascagoula Project Impact initiative are BellSouth and the Mississippi Power Company who announced a series of steps to mitigate damage to their facilities and to provide special services and incentives to aid customers in the event of a disaster.

In Wilmington, a number of private sector partners, including Lowe's Hardware Stores, General Electric and Barnes and Noble Books, announced they will help develop and implement a comprehensive hazard risk/vulnerability assessment and conduct mitigation and awareness education activities.

Project Impact Guidebook

To assist other communities in adapting this new approach to their own terrain, FEMA has produced a Project Impact guidebook that offers a formula for communities to become disaster resistant. Copies of the guidebook can be obtained from FEMA Publications at 1-800-480-2520 or via FEMA's Web Site at http://www.fema.gov/about/impact.htm.

For more information on Project Impact and how your business can get involved contact Barry Scanlon, FEMA's Business Liaison, at (202) 646-2708 or Jim Hammill, Special Advisor to FEMA/Corporate Contingency Planning, at (202) 646-3514. Additional information on FEMA can be found on the FEMA Website at http://www.fema.gov.

Conclusion

The goal of Project Impact is to change the way America prepares for and prevents disasters. FEMA is confident that the cooperative, common sense preparation that is the basis of Project Impact will save lives, homes, jobs and businesses around the country from future disasters.

PROJECT IMPACT
MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT
WILMINGTON PILOT COMMUNITY
December 9, 1997

The city of Wilmington and representatives from its private businesses, in partnership with New Hanover County, the State of North Carolina and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have pledged to take actions and adopt measures that will lead to the development of Wilmington as a Project Impact disaster resistant community. Together, these partners will work to set priorities and take mitigating actions that are necessary to ensure Wilmington is better prepared for and less likely to suffer the effects of natural disaster.

The primary activity that these partners have pledged to undertake is the development and implementation of a Project Impact Disaster Resistant Community Action Plan. It would employ a local mitigation strategy based on the natural hazards within the city and county and the risks they pose to buildings, utilities and transportation systems to the natural hazards within the city and county. Some of the components of the plan include:

  • Improved efficiency of building and land development regulatory systems within the city and county to prevent unnecessary safety hazards or financial losses in the event of a natural disaster.
  • Development of a comprehensive, all-hazard education program to educate businesses, civic and voluntary organizations, and citizens about the things they can do to contribute to the building of a disaster resistant community and prevention of injury and property loss in the event of a disaster.
  • Identification and development of incentives for residents to pursue and implement mitigation measures.
  • Identification and development of incentives for businesses to pursue and adopt mitigation measures to protect their facilities and employees, as well as reduce post-disaster business interruption.
  • Development of business disaster plans that includes scenarios for preparedness, response recovery, redevelopment and mitigation.
  • Creation and implementation of a residential housing retrofitting program designed to encourage and assist citizens in their efforts to mitigate their homes from disasters and make their homes more disaster resistant.
  • Creation and implementation of a small business-retrofitting program designed to encourage and assist small businesses in their efforts to become more disaster resistant.
FEMA's Innovations in Mitigation Awards

As part of the first Eastern United States Mitigation Summit sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Wilmington, North Carolina December 8-10, 1997, FEMA presented 'Innovations in Mitigation' awards in recognition of public/private partnership efforts in emergency management. A list of the six award recipients and their award citation are presented below:

Title: 'New York Joint Loss Reduction Partnership'
Sponsor: Troy Savings Bank and NY State Emergency Management Office

Story: Under the leadership of the State Emergency Management Office, NewYork is sponsoring this collaborative effort to improve corporate emergency preparedness. The Partnership comprises a cross-section of the state's business leadership, along with key federal, state and local public sector officials. All are familiar with the business disruptions caused by natural disasters and their potentially devastating effect on communities. In addition to dedication to training, planning and public awareness, the Partnership focuses on critical crisis management issues.

Title: 'Hurricane Elena Story'
Sponsor: Ingalls Shipbuilding

Story: Ingalls Shipbuilding (a Division of Litton Industries) is located in Pascagoula on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In September 1985, the business sustained extensive damages from Hurricane Elena, totaling more than $60 million in 1997 dollars. Production operations involving nearly twelve thousand employees were suspended. A tremendous post disaster response was responsible for returning these employees to their jobs after just 5 I/2 days, saving several million dollars, an improvement from their experience with Hurricane Frederick in 1979.

Title: 'Operation Come-Back, 1,000 Points of Effort'
Sponsors: St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce
and Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency

Story: Catastrophic disasters are devastating wherever they occur, but they are even more devastating - and costly - in an island community. The Virgin Islands has experienced three such events in the past eight years: Hurricanes Hugo, Bertha and Marilyn. Limited resources, failed communications, and complex logistics have left the islands at the mercy of outside assistance to meet their response and recovery needs. Reliance on off-island resources stalls economic recovery and many businesses fail. Now however, the private sector, spearheaded by the Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with the Virgin Island Territorial Emergency Management Agency are working to be more self-sufficient following a disaster. Activities such as hardening buildings to protect inventories, providing for employees' survival needs so they can return to work, and purchasing local goods and services as early as the response phase are helping to change the history of emergency response/recovery in the Virgin Islands.

Title: 'A Commitment Built to Last'
Sponsor: AutoZone

Story: AutoZone, a $2.6 billion auto-retailing business, is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, thirty miles south of the New Madrid Rift, source of three of the most devastating earthquakes in United States history. Following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, AutoZone decided to include an earthquake resistant design in the plans for its new headquarters building. This decision was not only important for business continuity, but also valuable for employees, who are assured of on-site safety and continued employment following a devastating event.

Title: 'Partnership for a Stronger Community'
Sponsor: Home Depot

Story: Home Depot has a presence in 40 states and 4 Canadian provinces. It has an annual philanthropic budget of $10.3 million that is directed back to the communities served by their stores. Team Depot, an organized employee volunteer force, promotes volunteer activities to repair the homes of the elderly and disabled. Home Depot also maintains a Disaster Relief Credit Program, which offers home repair materials in disaster impacted areas with a six month no payments/no interest grace period, and Product Knowledge Classes, providing mitigation education.

Title: 'Nobody Knows a Neighbor Like a Neighbor'
Sponsor: BellSouth

Story: BellSouth's Crisis Preparation and Response Program includes a flexible and redundant network infrastructure designed to survive natural disasters. Result: 90% of BellSouth customers never lost service following Hurricane Fran. Other components include their cadre of volunteers, the BellSouth Pioneers, who logged hundred of hours staffing an emergency hotline in partnership with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management and FEMA, and deliver supplies of ice and water to residents without electricity.

 


 James Lee Witt has been the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency since April,

1993. As FEMA Director, Mr. Witt coordinates for President Clinton the response and recovery

activities of 28 federal agencies, and departments.