WARWICK, R.I. -- What would be the impact if a storm as big as the Great Hurricane of 1938 struck Rhode Island today?
That is what emergency management officials from nearly all 39 Rhode Island communities were asked during a hazard mitigation workshop, offered by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute.
Representatives from 32 communities and 16 federal and state agencies learned that critical facilities in the state, including emergency operation centers, fire and police, would have severe damage on the first day of the disaster. An estimated 14,310 people would be displaced. Once the 111-130 mph winds of the Category 3 hurricane winds passed, it would leave the state with 393,929 tons of building debris, 1.1 million tons of tree debris, and an estimated $3.1 billion in economic losses.
The devastating details were a stark reminder to the dozens of emergency managers, city officals and town planners, who in light of the recent disaster in Rhode Island, are looking to the future of disaster management in the state.
"Mitigation is about eliminating repetitive losses," RIEMA Executive Director J. David Smith said. "Our planners are now more equipped with resources to lead their community into the future better prepared."
Under federal law, state, tribal and local governments are required to develop a hazard mitigation plan as a condition for receiving certain types of disaster assistance, including funding for mitigation projects. Mitigation planning involves recognizing a community's vulnerability to specific hazards; assessing possible risks based on history, enormity of past disasters, and other factors that may cause loss of life and property; and then using that information to prevent future damages and recover quickly after a catastrophic event.
The RIEMA/FEMA workshop provided communities with some necessary resources needed to create a quality mitigation plan that is cost-effective, environmentally sound and technically feasible.
Attendees of the day-long event moved to breakout sessions facilitated by FEMA Mitigation Specialists to discuss recovery challenges after a natural disaster, mitigation strategies, and changes in their own community. Then, they met one-on-one with other federal, regional or state agencies to discuss ways to prevent damages and lessen the impact in their communities.
Local planners found FEMA's recommendations insightful.
"We now have a better direction of where to go, who to talk to and what we should be including in our plan," said Jason Rhodes, director of the Emergency Management Agency in Burrillville and president of the Rhode Island Association of Emergency Managers.
"FEMA's Mitigation Planners were wonderful," said Jacob Peabody, Coventry's associate town planner and enforcement officer. "They were an asset to us. They reviewed our plan, gave us ideas on what to add, and provided us with a list of contacts."
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.