Bluegrass Area Development District
As we watched certain disasters unfold on our television screens, thanks to Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole, we also saw early warnings for evacuations, teams of officials move citizens to safety or sweep in for dramatic rescues, others ramp up services to those displaced – and then comes the aftermath challenge of putting things back together.
None of this response to natural (or man-made) disasters comes without careful, strategic planning. While execution to respond involves many variables, planning is crucial for preparedness – and having everybody on the same page in terms of who does what.
And there’s a very important reason for a region – like the 17-county Bluegrass Area Development region – to have a strategic disaster preparedness plan.
Without one, FEMA aid will not be forthcoming.
Enter three Bluegrass Area Development District staff persons – Leann Lacy, community development specialist, Austin Bates, a GIS Specialist, and Joshua Cook, a Senior Planner. Together they, along with other staff persons, worked intensively on the “Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan Update”.
The “Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan Update” is a plan that must be updated every five years in order for any governmental jurisdiction in the 17-county region to even qualify for potential ‘declared disaster’ funds from FEMA.
The 505-page preliminary plan that Lacy and her colleagues have just submitted for FEMA review is the result of a nearly 18 month process that involved hundreds of people and the governing bodies of 16 counties within the Bluegrass Area Development District. Lexington-Fayette Urban County government made the decision to write their own independent plan.
It awaits FEMA’s feedback which may require some more documentation and then a final regional meeting before final adoption.
The process started when Lacy secured a $142,000 grant from FEMA to finalize the required plan on behalf of the 16-counties. The grant request itself was 32 pages.
“We offer expertise in grant-writing that our small communities just couldn’t afford,” Lacy said. “This gives smaller communities the advantage of the plan but not the financial burden of it.”
From the initial kickoff meeting in April 2015 which all stakeholders – public officials, emergency management representatives, Homeland Security Council members, private entities, the public and more – in the 17-county region were invited, to the submission of the draft plan to FEMA, there were more than 80 public meetings across the region.
The local subcommittees had to review every local ‘hazard sheet,’ local goals and objectives related to disasters, possible projects, updating critical facilities inventories and maps, and every possible measurement for dealing with potential hazards.
These hazards include, but are not limited to flooding, earthquakes, landslides, winter storms, drought and severe storms which could affect “critical facilities” like hospitals, power plants and schools.
The final document includes important maps and local demographics critical to first-responders and a more user friendly layout than previous plans, to aide in the usefulness of the document for local responders.
“This plan makes our communities safer by enabling them to address local deficiencies with mitigation projects, up to date critical facilities maps, hazard risk assessments (based on recent occurrences), and goals for their communities to improve both response and preparedness,” said Lacy. “When a community can identify and address repetitive loss properties, storm drainage issues or add sirens to a previously uncovered portion of their jurisdiction, then those changes will make a difference.”
Lacy draws on her experience as a native of West Liberty which was struck by a devastating tornado in 2012.
“If a community can’t think of what might happen in the event of a disaster, response and recovery is harder,” she said. “This plan allowed local officials, EMs and first responders to sit down and make goals such as assisting the elderly and at-risk populations during a snow storm or to make sure they have adequately equipped first responders.
“Likely these were always goals, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to re-emphasis or re-examine core values, review risk assessments, or events in the past five years that may impact the plan.”
Lacy expects FEMA to respond to the draft plan within two months.