BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Government and business leaders in Birmingham and Jefferson County, whose communities were devastated by tornadoes a year ago, will formally agree Thursday to become part of a federal program designed to help them become more disaster-resistant.
They will commit to participate in Project Impact, an initiative developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to encourage public and private sector actions to reduce loss of life and property in storms.
The agreement between FEMA and the participating communities is to be signed in Birmingham's Linn Park at 2 p.m. April 8, the first anniversary of one of the most violent and widespread tornadoes strikes in the state's history.
"It's a day to remember the tragic losses we suffered a year ago and act together to protect our community from a similar disaster in the future," said Lee Helms, acting assistant director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA).
The work has already begun. "In the course of rebuilding, these communities have already become involved in mitigating the potential damage of future storms," said John Copenhaver, regional director of FEMA. "In Project Impact they join other storm-endangered communities across the nation working to reduce their disaster vulnerability."
Under the agreement, FEMA will provide $150,000 in seed money for an initial series of projects, including an internet-based emergency information website, an improved early warning system and employment of a coordinator to work with the private sector.
Project Impact involves a public-private collaborative effort to shift emphasis from recovery to preparedness and finding ways to minimize the impact of disasters on people and property. This is known as disaster mitigation.
In the last five years, FEMA has responded to nearly 5,000 disasters in 49 states and spent nearly $14 billion in federal disaster relief. Insurance payments add more billions to this.
The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency, working in partnership with officials from the 32 municipalities within the county, will coordinate future plans for dealing with the known threats posed by flooding, tornadoes, severe weather and hazardous materials accidents.
Flooding is a chronic hazard in Jefferson County because of its hilly terrain and numerous streams and small rivers. Tornadoes are a well-known risk as are ice storms. The area's heavy industries and mining activities make it vulnerable to industrial disasters.
The Alabama tornadoes of 1998 raked Jefferson, Covington, Cullman, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties. Federal disaster assistance to the state totaled $31.3 million, $11 million of which went to repair or rebuild public facilities.