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Mayors and County Officials Team Up With FEMA to Promote Disaster Resistant Communities

By Kimberly Peterson


The Joint Center for Sustainable Communities signed a new partnership agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington December 13. Highlighting the opening plenary session of FEMA's second annual Project Impact Summit, FEMA Director James Lee Witt, Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles and Howard County Executive C. Vernon Gray ceremonially signed an agreement designed to build a closer working relationship between the two local government organizations and the federal agency.

Building disaster resistant communities is becoming increasingly important as the nation weathers more catastrophic storms and natural disasters. Without such efforts and plans underway, a community is not really sustainable.  Project Impact is FEMA's program aimed at the local level to help communities become resistant to disasters through such efforts as ending incentives to build in flood plains, retrofitting buildings and adopting model building codes.

Cities and counties are finding disaster resistance an easy topic to rally behind. According to Director Witt, "Communities once divided over sprawl are coming together behind disaster prevention." In fact, Tulsa, Deerfield Beach, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and others are putting their money behind disaster prevention and have approved bond issues for disaster prevention infrastructure. Witt added, "Disaster prevention has become an economic engine."

Aida Alvarez, Director of the Small Business Administration (SBA), addressed the Summit participants on creating a disaster resistant economy. The SBA plays a large role in helping communities recover from natural disasters by providing loans to disaster victims. The SBA has undertaken a five-year pilot program aimed at making small businesses disaster resistant. Alverez said, "In a typical disaster, 30 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors. Imagine what that would do to the sustainability of your community if nearly one-third of your small businesses disappeared."

Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles has seen first hand how disaster resistance has helped his community. Boise has been selected as a Project Impact Community and has targeted its efforts toward preventing forest fires in the foothills surrounding the city. Coles cited lightning strikes as a potential disaster for his community saying, "If we can stop a fire before it takes out 1,000 acres, we won't have to worry about floods in the Spring." He has worked with local fire responders on a plan to address this problem.  Boise is also faced with another potential disaster - it sits on a fault line. By partnering with the university and school districts on earthquake education, the city has used Project Impact to save lives if an earthquake should ever hit. All of these efforts are cost-effective too. As the mayor said, "For a few dollars we can save lives if an earthquake strikes."

For more information on how to make your community disaster resistant, visit FEMA's website at www.fema.gov  or call (202) 646-4600.


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