Hazard Mitigation - A Disaster's Silver Lining

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Release date: 
April 20, 2012
Release Number: 

 Lacey, Wash. -- For 45 seconds in 2001 one of the largest earthquakes in State history rattled Western Washington, injuring more than 200 people and causing thousands to flee.

The 6.8 magnitude "Nisqually" earthquake was centered between Olympia and Tacoma, less than 20 miles from the Campus of Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). While the school received little damage from the quake, mostly cracks in several buildings, the temblor served as a reminder that earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest are serious business and that the University may not fare as well in another earthquake.

As a result of the "Nisqually" quake, PLU put seismic retro-fitting of its structures high on the list of priorities, with resident halls, which house hundreds of students, topping the list.

During the process of disaster recovery from a severe winter storm in 2007, PLU officials learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can reimburse cost-effective measures for facilities or structures to prevent future damage and costs. It is called the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and it allows jurisdictions to make "fixes" that will prevent damage from future incidents.

And like funding applied to disaster recovery itself, FEMA will contribute 75% of the mitigation costs, with the remaining 25% the state and local share.

With the help of the state and Pierce County Emergency Management, Pacific Lutheran University successfully competed for $2.4 million with which to apply seismic retrofit to Hinderlie and Hong residential dormitories both of which were nearly 60 years old. The work primarily focused on measures to strengthen and reinforce the structures in order to meet present earthquake building standards.

"Resident halls are occupied 24/7," says PLU Vice President Sheri Tonn, "and it makes me sleep a lot easier knowing the 350 students in those dormitories are better prepared to survive an earthquake should another occur." She also had high marks for the process noting that both the state and county were easy to work with and extremely helpful in applying for the grants.

Because it has an enhanced mitigation plan, Washington receives 20 percent of the funds spent on each disaster for HMGP grants. Administered by the State of Washington and applied state wide, HMGP projects, are identified during the recovery process, but do not have to be a result of the present disaster. In the case of PLU, for example, the funds for the seismic work on the two dorms came from a mitigation "pot" of $12 million that was set aside from the 2007 disaster declaration.

These HMGP grants must be tied to state and county mitigation plans, and must comply with all environmental, historical and cultural regulations.  Additionally mitigation projects must demonstrate they are cost-effective.

Even during the January 2012 storm and subsequent recovery efforts, work on the two PLU resident halls was under way. By being proactive and identifying early a potential hazard mitigation project PLU is using dollars from a previous, yet unrelated disaster recovery effort to prevent severe damage and potential loss of life should another disaster occur.

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.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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