MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- When Hurricane Irene swept into Chesapeake, Va. Aug. 27, the city was ready, thanks to an active citizenry and mitigation grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can prepare,” said State Coordinating Officer Michael Cline of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “What we learn from the city of Chesapeake can be applied throughout Virginia.”
“Over the years, Chesapeake has used FEMA mitigation grants to protect the community from future damage,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Don Keldsen. “That is what mitigation is all about.”
As Hurricane Irene approached, Chesapeake officials did not issue mandatory evacuation orders, but encouraged people in flood-prone areas or living in mobile homes to leave. They opened four emergency shelters plus one for pets to serve evacuees.
Fourteen thousand residents got the word through the Chesapeake Alert System. Developed in 2009, the system can send voice and/or text messages to registered residents. The city’s Natural Event Mitigation Advisory Committee developed the system for just $2,915, funded by a grant from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).
Since it was established, the system has significantly decreased the amount of personal property damage in the city from all levels of flooding. The city also uses the system to send non-emergency information on disaster planning, post-event notifications, and town hall meeting announcements.
The advisory committee has been working since 2003 to develop and monitor effective mitigation strategies. Made up of private citizens and city staff, the committee was instrumental in creating the city’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. Today it reviews all plan updates and initiates mitigation projects.
There are about 11,000 properties in the City of Chesapeake floodplain. Over the years, the city and the committee have successfully targeted properties with repetitive losses. For example, the city:
- Distributed a brochure to floodplain residents that described simple flood mitigation actions. The brochure also explained how to register for the alert system.
- Purchased 160 NOAA weather radios to alert citizens in the most vulnerable neighborhoods to weather warning. This project cost $5,225 and was also funded with HMGP grants.
- Encouraged residents to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. At the time Irene hit, about 80 percent of flood-damaged buildings were covered by flood insurance.
- Added “freeboard” and/or flood proofing requirements to its floodplain management regulations. Freeboard means the level that a structure’s lowest floor must be elevated. Freeboard reduces flood damage and lowers flood insurance rates.
- Elevated four flood-prone properties using the HMGP. The four elevated houses stayed high and dry during the last six significant flood events, including Hurricane Irene.
- Purchased five flood-prone properties using FEMA’s Repetitive Flood Claims (RFC) grant program. These properties will always be maintained as open green space.
All these mitigation measures contribute to the safety of Chesapeake’s citizens and reduce the damage caused by the area’s weather events.
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.