During the April 2011 tornadoes, Prattville, Ala. resident Ty Story took cover in a closet with his wife Becky and their three daughters using a mattress for extra protection.
“We were about a mile from where it hit,” he said of the EF-3 tornado that destroyed and damaged numerous homes in his community. “We knew it was close to us, but we couldn’t see it because our house is next to a tree line. But you could see all the trees going in different directions from the wind.”
Although the Story family and their home were undamaged, the devastation around their home and community made one decision very easy. They quickly became one of the 4,267 Alabama families to register for and receive an individual safe room grant from the state of Alabama funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation program.
“The safety of Alabama’s residents was a main priority of Governor Bentley following the April 2011 storms,” said Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner, whose agency administered the program. “Our directive was to assist every homeowner and municipality who submitted the required application within the deadline to ensure they would soon have a safe place to go.”
Following federally declared disasters, states are given grant money from FEMA, through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, to help their residents and communities be more resilient in preparation for future disasters. The April 27, 2011 event in Alabama resulted in 62 tornadoes creating a path of destruction more than 1,711 miles long and causing more than 250 deaths in the state.
Due to that devastation, the state was eligible for more than $70 million in mitigation funds.
“We knew we never wanted to face this situation again,” Faulkner said. “We wanted to give Alabama families and communities the resources they needed to be prepared.”
Because the state established priorities for mitigation projects early, FEMA was able to provide up-front funding for program management costs, allowing the state to hire and train grant reviewers early in the process. Then, as grant applications came in from communities throughout the state, reviewers were already in place to handle them.
In addition, FEMA committed staff to work in Alabama for nearly two years to help process the mitigation grant applications, said FEMA Region IV Administrator Phil May.
“A key component in Alabama’s recovery has been the state’s commitment to implement mitigation measures to lessen the impacts of future disasters,” he said. “This allowed FEMA and state staff to work hand-in-hand during the project application and approval process.”
The partnership between the federal and state government, along with the rapid ability to receive funding wasn’t lost on the Story family, whose storm shelter is now installed underground, through their garage. The family received 75 percent of the cost through the grant program.
“Having the peace of mind we have now? That’s just huge,” he said. “We knew we wanted one after seeing the damage. But when we heard about the program and getting reimbursement to do this, well that was just a no-brainer. With three girls in school, I’m just glad FEMA and Alabama made this decision.”
Another example of the unified effort was the FEMA and AEMA co-sponsored “Safer Alabama Summit” held in June 2011 on the University of Alabama’s campus, which allowed storm survivors and elected officials to learn more about the importance of mitigation activities and how to make informed decisions on their recovery. The summit led to numerous other mitigation-related outreach meetings and events throughout the state.
In addition to safe rooms and storm shelters, state officials also obligated money to fund generators for critical infrastructure, alert notification systems, and a project to harden portions of the Druid City Hospital’s trauma center in Tuscaloosa that also sustained damages.
Alabama Mitigation Priorities:
- $63 million for 4,267 individual & 282 community safe rooms/storm shelters.
- $3.6 million for alert notification systems.
- $5 million for generators to critical infrastructure facilities.
- $1.3 million to harden Druid City Hospital’s trauma center.
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.