SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The idea behind disaster preparedness may be simple, but the results are powerful. A little bit of planning and community partnership can go a long way towards building a disaster-resistant community.
Every year, natural disasters damage our communities and affect the lives of our families, neighbors and friends. While we can't stop these natural disasters from occurring, we can work together to change the way America deals with disasters. That's the message the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered its Project Impact partners from 14 western states and over 50 communities in San Francisco, May 31 - June 2.
Project Impact: Building a Disaster Resistant Community is an initiative that challenges the nation to undertake actions that protect families, businesses and communities by reducing the effects of natural disasters. Removing people from harm's way and supporting the development of disaster-resistant communities is a critical element of Project Impact, a nationwide disaster prevention initiative started in 1997 by FEMA Director James Lee Witt. More than 200 communities and 1,000 business partners throughout the country are participating in this effort.
With an expansive profile of potential disasters ranging from earthquakes and floods, to winter storms, wildfires and even volcanic activity, workshop participants spoke on the need to forge local partnerships, develop plans to pool resources, and share success stories.
Experiences were shared on lifesaving measures, ways to reduce damage to property, how economic recovery could be accelerated by building safer and stronger buildings, and making the proper preparations before a disaster occurs.
The importance of communities identifying their own mitigation priorities - using their own reasons and mitigation goals - was outlined in disaster resistant community planning where each partner may have a different priority. Communities need to negotiate a balanced, reasoned agreement among all partners on a short- and long-term mitigation strategy.
"Pre-disaster preparation remains the key to reducing the damaging effects of natural disasters and serves as a tool for creating sustainable and livable communities," according to Michael Armstrong, Associate Director for Mitigation, FEMA. "Project Impact is an investment that will enhance and strengthen the economic structure and long-term stability of our communities, regardless of when or where disasters strike." Among the issues discussed during the three-day workshop were securing financial resources, mitigation principles and practices, and public/private partnership development.
For any community that is interested in channeling its efforts towards building a disaster resistant community, FEMA recommends a four-step process:
- Build community partnerships; identify and recruit community partners - local government leaders, civic and volunteer groups, businesses and individual citizens;
- Assess your community's risks for natural disasters and vulnerability to those risks;
- Target resources and prioritize actions necessary to reduce the impact of future disasters; and
- Keep your community focused on objectives and update citizens and businesses frequently on progress of Project Impact's present and future benefits to the community.
Any community that is interested in participating in Project Partnership should contact their Governor's Office of Emergency Management, and for more information on Project Impact, see FEMA's website - www.fema.gov.