Anyone who has ever taken first aid has learned that the best first aid is actually prevention. This is why one of the core functions of emergency management is reducing the risk and vulnerability to natural and manmade threats within the community. It is not enough to have the best resources, the most integrated response operations, or the most comprehensive and up-to-date emergency operations plan. Emergency managers also must work diligently with the state hazard mitigation officer and the state floodplain manager on strategies to prevent or mitigate the potential impact on the community of known hazards.
For over two decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has had a pre-disaster mitigation planning program in place. However, it was not until the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 was enacted that the earlier Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1974 (better known as the Stafford Act) was revised to incorporate a strategic and dedicated funding mechanism for mitigation initiatives. In recent years, though, FEMA has focused a substantial part of its efforts toward reducing the risk and vulnerability of U.S. communities.
Over the past decade, FEMA has developed several programs designed to help local communities recognize the hazards faced and to develop the strategies needed to reduce risk and vulnerability to unacceptable threats. FEMA provides limited funding as an incentive for communities to develop these risk-reduction strategies and to initiate hazard mitigation projects that reduce the community’s vulnerability to natural hazards. Many of these programs mandate that a local strategic plan be developed to reduce hazard risk to the jurisdiction. Some of these programs can be used to fund studies and/or planning initiatives that are needed both for project development and to calculate an acceptable benefit-cost ratio for possible FEMA funding.
The overall purpose for developing a local hazard mitigation plan is to have a comprehensive strategy in place for risk reduction, which should not be based on the availability of grant funds. Instead, developing a comprehensive hazard mitigation plan focuses a community’s efforts onentifying the steps needed to reduce risk and vulnerability within the jurisdiction(s) directly affected. Local emergency management and floodplain officials can use the strategiesentified in the hazard mitigation plan to seek funding from various sources.
Currently, FEMA offers five risk reduction programs under its Hazard Mitigation Assistance initiative. The following programs are available to help communities build and implement a local risk reduction strategy:
- Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)
- Pre-Disaster Mitigation Assistance Program (PDM)
- Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMA)
- Repetitive Flood Claims Program (RFC)
- Severe Repetitive Loss Pilot Program (SRL)
Under the Stafford Act, the HMGP is one of the disaster assistance programs that can be implemented following a presidential disaster declaration. The HMGP grants are designed to provide funds for local governments to implement long-term risk reduction strategies following a major disaster. Eligible applicants can apply for grant funds to start projects that can demonstrate a value in reducing the risk of loss to life and/or property. Historically, HMGP funds have been used for the acquisition, retrofit, and/or relocation of property particularly vulnerable to natural hazards. These funds also can be used to develop and implement local land-use regulations designed to reduce or eliminate damages. In the past, one trend has been to develop warning systems connected to a comprehensive strategy. All HMGP projects must demonstrate cost-effectiveness while reducing risk and liability.
In contrast, the PDM Program provides limited funds to develop hazard mitigation strategies prior to a disaster. The program is competitive, but is designed to provide funds to those jurisdictions that are willing to commit to developing and implementing integrated risk reduction strategies.
The FMA Program is focused specifically on reducing repetitive claims to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP – approved by Congress in 1968) and is open only to participating NFIP communities. This program is divided into two types of grants: (a) FMA Planning Grants, which are used to develop flood mitigation plans that can help the community in developing an overall strategy for reducing the risk and vulnerability of flood-prone areas; and (b) FMA Project Grants, which provide resources that communities can use to implement strategiesentified in their own Flood Mitigation Plans. Like the FMA Project Grants, the RFC and SRL programs are intended to provide resources that local communities can use to implement flood mitigation plans targeting repetitive and severe repetitive loss claims under the NFIP.
FEMA also has developed a unified guidance document covering all five of the hazard mitigation programs. According to FEMA’s own “Unified Guidance” document, the annual PDM, FMA, RFC, and SRL programs are intended primarily to “reduce the risk to individuals and property from natural hazards while simultaneously reducing reliance on federal disaster funds.” In contrast, the HMGP is available only after the issuance of a formal presidential disaster declaration.
Each program has its own unique requirements and standards, but all of the grants mentioned above are available to states, territories, Indian tribal governments, and local governments. Eligibility requirements should be very carefully read and analyzed, though, because many of the funding opportunities are available only through eligible applicants – usually a state, tribe, or territory that then manages the issuance of sub-grants to eligible communities and entities at the local level. Additional information on each program, including eligibility criteria, is available on the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance website (see footnotes below).
However, jurisdictions should not solely rely on FEMA-based hazard mitigation programs for funding sources. The federal government also maintains a Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) programs. According to a 2010 announcement by the U.S. General Services Administration, the CFDA provides a comprehensive catalog of all grants that are available to “State and local governments; federally recognized Indian tribal governments; Territories (and possessions) of the United States; domestic public, quasi-public, and private profit and nonprofit organizations and institutions; specialized groups; and individuals.”
FEMA has developed programs to help local communities recognize hazards faced and develop strategies needed to reduce risk and vulnerability to natural hazards.
In short, there are many things a community can do, with relatively limited funds, to reduce risk and vulnerability. The enforcement of model life safety and building codes, for example – combined with designing a city master plan and a land-use management strategy that reduces development in high hazard areas – ensures the safety and operational capabilities of a sustainable and viable community. Working with local cable and cellular technology providers, jurisdictions can also develop alert and warning systems, which push threat warnings down to individuals and the community as whole. The broad dissemination of information is therefore an important key to hazard mitigation.
Communities seeking to implement their own hazard mitigation initiatives also should look for potential funding sources from other federal agencies. Resources such as the Community Development Block Grants (first authorized by Congress in 1974) may be used not only to assist local communities in meeting grant cost-sharing requirements but also to provide the resources needed to implement risk reduction strategies before disaster strikes. Depending on the scope and focus of the initiative, other agencies that may provide services or funding for risk reduction initiatives include, but are not limited to: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Federal Highway Administration; the U.S. Geological Survey; the U.S. Fire Administration; and – most important of all, probably, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The bottom line is simply this: To be eligible for many, probably most, of the grants now available, jurisdictions must first develop a risk reduction strategy that incorporates initiatives which are: (a) sustainable; (b) technologically feasible; (c) attainable – usually by using a variety of resources; and (d) in full compliance with all relevant federal, state, and local laws. After a strategy has been finalized and approved by FEMA, jurisdictions can focus greater attention on developing the resources necessary to implement hazard mitigation strategies in an efficient and effective manner.
For additional information on: FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Guidance, visit https://www.fema.gov/grants/mitigation/hazard-mitigation-assistance-guidance
Federal Domestic Assistance programs, visit https://sam.gov/content/assistance-listings
NOTE: Hyperlinks were updated in this article on 28 February 2022.
Anthony S. Mangeri
Assistant Vice President, Mitigation and Resilience, The Olson Group Ltd.
Anthony S. Mangeri, MPA, CPM, CEM, has been an active practitioner in emergency management
for over 35 years. Currently, he serves as assistant vice president for mitigation and resilience at The
Olson Group Ltd. and president of Region 2 of the International Association of Emergency Managers
(IAEM). Prior to his current position, he served as a town manager where he facilitated the community
response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was responsible for local emergency preparedness and disaster
recovery operations, and oversaw the establishment of a municipal police department. For more than 10
years, he served as New Jersey’s State Hazard Mitigation Officer, building systems to identify hazards,
prioritize risk, and mitigate threats. During the 9/11 attacks, he served as operations chief
at the New Jersey Emergency Operations Center coordinating the state’s response to the World Trade
Center attacks. He has been a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician for more
than 30 years. He earned a Master of Public Administration from Rutgers’s University. He also
completed a fellowship in Public Health Leadership in Emergency Response, is a Certified Professional
Coach, and served on professional committees, including the ASIS Fire and Life Safety Council and
executive committee of the IAEM-USA Board.