Columbia County's leaders started planning Thursday for the Hazard Mitigation Plan update.
The process started at a Local Emergency Planning Meeting with a presentation by Scott Sherman, with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
"We learned a lot from doing the first one," county Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker said. The first Hazard Mitigation plan was approved in early 2005.
The plan determines the risks of natural disasters in the county, and steps to reduce or eliminate the loss of life and property damage in the disasters.
Having an approved plan also ensures eligibility funding for several pre- and post-disaster grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Access to those funding streams is contingent on maintaining a pre-disaster mitigation plan," said Sherman, a hazard mitigation planner. "It is real nice when we can bring federal dollars back down to our local community. Basically, this is our way of competing with states like California and New York that used to get all the lion's share of everything."
The planning committee, made up of community members, government and emergency officials from the county, Harlem and Grovetown, and representatives from area industries, will take the lead in assessing the county's vulnerability to disasters, including floods and tornadoes.
"Frankly, you are the most important resources," said Sherman, adding that the planning is paid for by a 75 percent FEMA grant. "It is written in the law that there must be a broad range of people from the community to work on the planning committee to ensure it has got good support."
Goals in the plan include a long list of projects officials would like to see done. These projects are the only ones that can be approved for FEMA grants. The projects can include stormwater drainage improvements, which fall under flooding, and adding wind-resistant windows to critical facilities, Tucker said.
"If it is not in the plan, you don't get it," she said. "So, in the plan, we need to put everything in."
Columbia County was the first to draft the initial plan, which expires in January. A draft of the update is due to GEMA by June 2011.
Tucker said the planning committee will meet over the next five months to create the draft.
"Most counties contract it out," Tucker said, adding that grant funding is available to do that. "But I didn't want to do that. Because if we do it ourselves, we know what's in it, we understand it. ... It is a lot better for us to do that."
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