Defined as actions taken to prevent or reduce the risk to life, property, social and economic activities, and natural resources from natural hazards, mitigation includes such activities as:
- Complying with or exceeding flood plain management regulations.
- Enforcing stringent building codes, flood-proofing requirements, seismic design standards and wind-bracing requirements for new construction or repairing existing buildings.
- Adopting zoning ordinances that steer development away from areas subject to flooding, storm surge or coastal erosion.
- Retrofitting public buildings to withstand hurricane-strength winds or ground shaking.
- Acquiring damaged homes or businesses in flood-prone areas and returning the property to open space, wetlands or recreational use.
- Revamping of our infrastructure, roadways, utilities to better meet our needs during a recovery period.
Mitigation also involves a broad spectrum of players outside the traditional emergency management circle. Among others, these parties might include land use planners, construction and building officials (both public and private), business owners, insurance companies, community leaders, politicians and individual home owners.
The design and construction process provides one of the most cost effective means of addressing risk. This process is governed by building codes, architecture and design criteria, and soils and landscaping considerations. Most often code criteria that support risk reduction apply only to new construction, substantial renovation or renovation to change the type of use of the building.
Enactment of building codes is the responsibility of the state and most state codes are derivatives of one of the three model codes which reflect geographical differences across the United States. Some state delegate code adoption responsibility to more local governmental authorities. Because of cost, codes that require rehabilitation of existing potential-hazardous structures have been rarely implemented.
The construction process offers other opportunities. For example, installing underground utility lines thereby minimizing the loss of service due to wind and ice storms. Landscaping is particularly critical in areas of potential mudslides or near bodies of natural waterways because of erosion. Clearing, grading, and siting all potential impacts to soil stability and erosion can and should be part of a design or building permit review process.
Impediments to Mitigation
Why hasnít risk reduction and mitigation programs been more widely applied? There are several factors including denial of the risk, political will, costs and lack of funding and the taking issue. Many individuals donít want to recognize that they or their communities are vulnerable.
Recognition requires action. Some people are willing to try to beat the odds and if the odds do not work in their favor they know the government will help them out. Potential liability issues are making communities more aware, media attention to disasters in this country and around the world has brought public pressure and the government has provided both incentives and penalties for taking preventive action.
Mitigation costs money, but it is always better to be proactive rather than reactive.
Mitigation is a long-term endeavor with long-term benefits. Our political system tends to focus on short-term efforts with short-term rewards. Mitigation strategies and actions require political vision and will. Funding for mitigation comes primarily from federal programs that need to be matched with state and local dollars. Strong arguments can be made that it is in the best financial interest of our various government bodies to support mitigation even in these budget challenged times.
Mitigation strategies and actions require political vision and will. Local elected officials are the individuals who have to promote, market and endorse adopting risk reduction as a goal. For many elected officials, the development pressures are too much, funding is lacking and other priorities dominate their agendas. However, with the increasing natural disasters hopefully more elected officials will recognize that they canít afford to take action.
Investment in risk reduction makes sense in view of the scale, destructiveness, human tragedy and material loss caused by natural disasters. The next disaster may in your hometown!
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Have You Heard...?
Over 250,000 people were killed by disasters worldwide in 2010.
Per a statement made by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon during a United Nations meeting, this statistic made 2010 one of the deadliest years in more than a generation. With earthquakes, heat waves, floods and snowstorms affecting 208 million people, killing more than 250,000 and costing more than $110 billion in losses last year alone, we can no longer wait for the next generation to take on the challenge of multi-hazard mitigation planning.
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