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Strong Relationships Build Mitigation in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

Challenge

Hazard mitigation plans are guides for reducing risk. However, communities often lack the resources to put their plans into action because of low staff capacity, financial resources, or a lack of existing relationships. Franklin County, Pennsylvania faces these challenges and more as they grapple with urban and rural communities, and both a mountainous and agricultural landscape. The county government is limited in its resources, so developing strong relationships is important to make mitigation successful.

Solution

Franklin County relies on internal resources to developing the plan, which grounds it in community needs. This was meant to improve buy-in so that each participating community felt the plan served them. In addition to the communities and their representatives, other potential partners were brought in to give their input, including school districts, medical facilities, and local non-profits. Many communities feel the plan belongs to them as they put in time and effort to develop their own risk assessments. Including local information in the plan allowed each community to better tackle their unique risks and concerns. The Pennsylvania Standard Operating Guide and FEMA Region 3 provided tools and guidance throughout the process.

As the former director of the county’s Department of Emergency Services, John Thierwechter noted, “Not only did we end up with a superior product, we also deepened our relationship with the municipal stakeholders.” Building internal buy-in and relationships with partners throughout the county makes completing projects easier because key players are already invested in the effort. Mr. Thierwechter continues to monitor the hazard mitigation plan in his new role as Assistant County Administrator.

The next step was to bring the hazard mitigation plan into other community plans, a process known as plan integration. This process helps make sure that community plans all share the same goals. Since the county’s hazard mitigation plan was approved, it has served as a roadmap for all emergency management work within the county. This county hazard plan is integrated into the county’s Emergency Operations Plan, the county’s Department of Emergency Services Strategic Plan, several municipal Emergency Operations Plans, and in school district Emergency Operations Plans through the Safe Schools Program. The county’s partners saw the plan’s value and incorporated its information and goals into their own planning processes.

During the county’s 2019 annual hazard mitigation plan review, the hazard mitigation committee looked at the current risks and noted that 29 mitigation actions had been accomplished over the past 12 months. Some of these mitigation actions shed light on the county’s day-to-day efforts. Talking about these actions in the plan allowed the county to celebrate their hard work and build on it in the future. One community approached the county for assistance in adding a dam spillway assessment project to this plan to make it eligible for funding. Another community took advantage of unused county grant funds to complete a necessary project without having to submit for another grant. The success of the hazard mitigation planning effort built momentum and has taken on a life of its own. Partners have seen the value of this planning process and have added elements from this process to their own plans.

Mitigation Best Practice - HMP Committee Meeting - Franklin County, PA

Franklin County’s commitment to bringing all parties to the table ensures that communities take hazard mitigation seriously and treat it as part of their standard planning. Even in communities with limited resources, regular coordination with partners and checking on the status of plans can keep efforts current and maintain relationships long into the future. 

Key Takeaways

  • Franklin County developed the hazard mitigation plan in house. While not every community can do this, it allows for better buy-in and for relationships to grow.
  • The success of the planning effort gained momentum and has taken on a life of its own. Partners see the value of the hazard mitigation plan and have added elements from it to their own plans.
  • Regular meetings keep up the momentum for putting projects into action. Discussing risks, successes and challenges on a regular basis allows the community to move forward steadily and thoughtfully.
  • Annual reviews will make the five-year plan update easier. The working group is still meeting, and data on mitigation action progress and updated risks and capabilities are already being collected for the next update.

The application window to apply for FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants is open through Jan. 29, 2021. To learn more about funding eligible projects, review the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program and the new pre-disaster mitigation program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities. A FEMA-approved HMP is required for funding under these programs.

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Last updated January 13, 2021