Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Defining "Hazard Mitigation"

Well the world has taken a few turns since the NGA issued its 5 volume report on Emergency Management that helped boost the creation of FEMA. The agency mantra of "preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation" stems from that document. Now PKEMA of 2006 has slipped in the word "prevention" into the FEMA and EM mantra. But what about "mitigation"?

On April 14, 1981, over a year after FEMA opened its doors, the GC of FEMA wrote a memorandum to the Director FEMA subject: Defining "hazard mitigation". The paper included two tabs. Tab A was a consensus definition developed by a high ranking group assembled to prepare an "agreed upon" definition. Included in the memo was the following sentence:
"As you will note it includes other disciplines--plans and preparedness, response and recovery--since these efforts are also aimed at reducing the severity of catastrophic occurrences".
The memo also included a Tab B with a more restrictive version used by the reorganization staff at OMB when the FEMA plan was presented to President Carter for his approval. The memo stated "This statement while not acceptable to the group [those assembled to forge the consesus definition] defines hazard mitigation in terms differentiating its policies from those activities aimed more at readiness or response or recovery.

The memo concludes with the sentence "Executive Order 12148 states that you coordinate and set policy for "civil emergency planning, management, mitigation and assisitance functions of Executive agencies".

It should not pass notice that FEMA opened its doors with a "Research and Mitigation Directorate" even though that Directorate bit the dust in September 1981 and did not reappear until November 1993 under Director James Lee Witt. It again disappeared in the George W. Bush Administration even before FEMA was incorporated into DHS on March 1, 2003.
And perhaps in passing the word "research" also disappeared from the FEMA organization chart in September 1981 never to reappear.
With that preface the full text of TAB A and B of the memo are set forth below:

Hazard mitigiation is an underlying philosophy which, when applied, reduces the severity of the effects of an emergency on people and property by reducing the cause or occurrence of the hazard, reducing exposure to the hazard or reducing the effects by preparedness, response and recovery measures. As practiced by FEMA, hazard mitigation is a management strategy in which current actions and expenditures to reduce the occurrence or severity of potential disaster events are balanced with potential losses from future hazard occurences.
Mitigation includes such actions as:
1) minimizing probability of hazard occurrence (e.g., restoration of damaged dams and levees,dam safety);
2) improvement of structures at risk (e.g., flood-proofing, fire safety studies, model codes and specifications in restoration of damaged public facilities);
3) identification of hazard-prone areas and standards for prohibited or restricted use (e.g., floodplain management, structural and non-structural flood proofing, hazard mitigation plans);
4) loss recovery and relief (e.g., insurance, disaster grants and housing, low interest loans);
5) hazard warning and population protection (e.g., assistance for warning, emergency public information, direction and control, protective measures, sheltering, relocation and detection and training).



"Hazard mitigation" is the principle that potential disasters can be lessened or averted by formulating policies and programs designed at improving concepts for land use and building standards in such a way that people and property are placed in less risk of the occurrence of an event (abatement) or are made less vulnerable to the effects of destructive phenomena such as fires, storms, floods, and earthquakes when they strike. The central idea is that there are approaches which can be taken to literally reduce the probability of the consequences of a disasterous event from occurring, as well as, approaches which, if the events cannot be prevented entirely, their effects when occurring can be minimized by building structures that can withstand them or by keeping people away form zones wher the danger is predictable.
Our principal mitigatino functions include:
--E.O. 11988, Floodplain Management, E.O. 11990, Protection of Wetlands as implemented in 44 CFR Part 9;
--Section 406 of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288);
--National Flood Insurance Program as implemented in FIA's [Federal Insurance Administration] floodplain management regulations;
--Section 1362 of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, as amended, Acquistion of Flood Damaged Property;
--OMB Directed Inter-Agency Agreement--post flood disaster hazard mitigation plans;
--Earthquake Hazards reduction;
--Dam Safety;
--Fire Prevention."

Of course many definitions swirl around today including some in statutory languages but those present at the "creation" of FEMA took their best shot. IMO they could have done better but hey it was a start.