ATLNATA, Ga. -- Government leaders in Escambia County, the City of Pensacola, and the State of Florida are becoming partners with local businesses and corporations in a unique new effort of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create communities that are more resistant to disasters.
The Escambia/Pensacola area, selected for FEMA's Project Impact initiative and Florida's Showcase Community Project, is the second Florida community to become part of the program. Deerfield Beach in Broward County on the lower east coast was the first in the nation when it was designated last December. FEMA Director James Lee Witt hopes by the end of the year to have 200 communities signed on to this aggressive hazard mitigation program which stresses partnership with the private sector.
The agreement among FEMA, the state of Florida, the city, the county, and local private sector partners was signed at the Clarion Suites Resort on Pensacola Beach on Wednesday, May 19 following a ceremony and luncheon. National Project Impact partner, Solutia Corporation of St. Louis is donating impact-resistant glass to assist in a retrofit of the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters.
Escambia County, in common with much of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, is subject to hurricanes and frequent torrential rainfall. The area has been included in four presidential disaster declarations in the past five years, three of them for hurricanes. Hurricane Georges was the most recent visitor, last September. Hurricanes Erin and Opal struck in 1995. And Frederic wrought serious damage in 1979.
The region has taken many steps to mitigate against the hazards of recurring storms and floods. Building codes, comprehensive plans, zoning, floodplain management, and stormwater management are in effect county-wide. In addition, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, regulating the barrier island that is home to Pensacola Beach, has some of the most progressive coastal construction standards in the Southeast.
"Pensacola and Escambia County have already taken aggressive steps toward mitigating the potential damage of future storms and floods. FEMA is happy to have provided support for their effort. Over $2 million in hazard mitigation grants have been provided for structural wind retro-fitting, hurricane shutters, and a stormwater drainage system," said John Copenhaver, regional director of FEMA. "In Project Impact, they are moving to the next level by forming public/private partnerships and joining other storm-threatened communities across the nation working to reduce their disaster vulnerability."
Steve Seibert, Secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, said, "The Project Impact/Showcase Communities in Florida serve as laboratories where disaster-resistant concepts and techniques can be developed and implemented. We are delighted to be part of a program that will build on our existing efforts to less the damage to lives and property resulting from hurricanes and other disasters.
Project Impact, a FEMA initiative, is designed to bring together the best resources at all levels of government in coalition with business, industry, and civic leaders to make communities better protected from natural and man-made disasters.
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.