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Message from Federal Coordinating Officer Nancy M. Casper

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The citizens of Vilonia faced the fury of nature on April 25, when a deadly tornado tore through their town. While some families found shelter from the storm in individual safe rooms or storm shelters, many others were forced into closets, bathtubs and under beds for protection from the destructive winds. Sadly, some Arkansans lost their lives in that storm and others that struck the state over the following weeks.

To help protect Arkansans in future storms, FEMA recently awarded a $1 million grant for the construction of a community safe room at Vilonia High School. Designed to hold nearly 1,150 people during a weather-related emergency, the 6,500-square-foot facility will be built in part under the FEMA-funded and state-run Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The grant will cover 75 percent of the cost of the $1.3 million project.

The safe room, which will serve most of the time as a physical education facility for Vilonia High students, exemplifies the kinds of projects approved by the state under the HMGP. In fact, community safe rooms, especially ones for schools, represent perhaps the most requested use of HMGP funds in Arkansas, although these grants serve many other purposes as well.

In areas subjected to repeat flooding, HMGP funds may be used for property acquisitions, commonly called “buy-outs.” In these cases, a home or other structure at high risk of repeat flood damage is purchased from willing owners and then demolished. Then the land it sits on either returns to its natural state or becomes a park or other green space.

Some communities in Arkansas also have expressed interest in using HMGP funds to improve drainage systems in order to prevent future flooding to homes and businesses in their neighborhoods. And, because Hazard Mitigation grants are available throughout the state in communities that have approved Hazard Mitigation plans, some communities request the grants to improve their existing mitigation plans or develop new ones.

Of course there are many other uses for the grants as well. Regardless of how the state chooses to award the money, the program is designed to provide a long-term solution to a problem — and ultimately to keep Arkansans out of harm’s way.

FEMA is currently in the state to help Arkansans and Arkansas communities recover from two disasters: the April 23-June 3 storms, tornadoes and flooding that affected a huge portion of the state, and the May 24-25 storms and tornadoes that hit Franklin, Johnson and Crawford counties. Unlike the Individual Assistance and Public Assistance programs that are available only to eligible applicants in the disaster-designated counties, Hazard Mitigation grants can be used anywhere in the state.

Therefore, just as funds for the Vilonia High School community safe room project resulted from a 2009 federal disaster declaration, future mitigation projects will come to fruition because of Hazard Mitigation funds made available to Arkansas under the recent disaster declarations.

The federal funds for disaster recovery come from the pockets of hardworking taxpayers throughout the country, and it’s my job as the federal coordinating officer for Arkansas’s two recovery missions to ensure we spend each and every dollar wisely. As taxpayers, all of us are helping to rebuild the homes and communities affected by the spring storms and floods, but we also continue to help make cities, towns and neighborhoods stronger — and safer — for future generations. In my book, those are sound investments.

Last Updated: 
06/26/2012 - 14:45
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