ORLANDO, Fla. -- Mitigation is the practice of preparing for disasters before they happen by using disaster-resistant building techniques or any other sustained methods designed to reduce or eliminate long-term risks to life and property. Studies show that every $1 spent on mitigation can save up to $4 in costs related to disaster recovery.
One simple but extremely effective mitigation measure is the installation of storm shutters or wind barriers. When properly installed, these devices can protect homes, businesses and vital public facilities – and, in the process, human lives.
The following are two examples of how Florida communities are using federal hazard mitigation funds made available from the 2004 hurricanes to offer protection against future storms. Each project involves the installation of storm shutters or other barriers, relatively straightforward measures to make buildings wind-resistant. Such applications have proven to reduce the damage from a potential calamity – and speed disaster recovery.
Protecting Water, Preserving Lives
Among Manatee County’s public facilities, the water treatment laboratory and the water treatment plant’s main control building are two of the most important to public health and safety – especially in the event of a disaster.
The county is using two federal mitigation grants to install wind-resistant storm shutters to bolster these critical public structures against the threat of future hurricanes. In the event of a hurricane, the protection offered by the shutters would lessen damage, help speed the immediate disaster response and hasten recovery.
“More than 350,000 people get water from us,” said Brian Sharkey, security manager for the Manatee County utility operations department. “That water treatment plant can’t go down.”
The treatment plant is responsible for providing clean drinking water to residents throughout the county, and also serves as the backup water source for the city of Bradenton. The staff at the Manatee County laboratory ensures the water from the plant is safe.
“These are the people who certify the water drinkable if there’s a water line break or some kind of contamination,” Sharkey said. “There’s millions of dollars worth of testing equipment in that facility.”
Both facilities are vital in the event of a hurricane, Sharkey pointed out. He added that the laboratory also houses, in the event of a disaster, the incident command center for his department, which is charged with wastewater, water distribution and landfill operations.
Neither the water plant’s control building nor the laboratory was equipped with storm shutters during the record-setting 2004 hurricane season. Extremely busy response efforts to Hurricane Charley and a near-shutdown of the water treatment plant as a result of Hurricane Jeanne underscored the necessity of protecting these two buildings.
In August 2004, Hurricane Charley caused widespread power outages in the county’s rural eastern reaches, home to numerous farms and dairies. Emergency power and shelter were essential. Although very busy, county workers were successful in their relief operations. But the county experienced a closer call when Hurricane Jeanne struck Florida’s west coast a month later. That time, Manatee County nearly lost its ability to provide citizens with fresh drinking water and fire hydrant services.
“We had an electrical system short out at the water treatment plant,” Sharkey said. “Literally, the plant was within 30 minutes of shutting down. At the same time, Bradenton had saltwater intrusion into its system.” If the Manatee County plant shut down, this meant that neither jurisdiction would have safe water.
Luckily, Sharkey said, swift efforts by Florida Power and Light, contract...