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Grant to help plan for disaster
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DARLINGTON - As recent flooding has demonstrated once again, Lafayette County is vulnerable to a variety of weather-related disasters.

"Flooding is our major weather concern," said John Reichling, Lafayette County Emergency Management Director. "Tornados are mounting up - June and July are the highest months for tornados in Wisconsin - and tornados develop wherever. Ice storms are a bad experience and costly. And snow storms, like we experienced last year, are expensive."

Lafayette County doesn't have many man-made disasters; there are no nuclear reactors, railroads or major airports. But a major highway, U.S. 151, runs though the county and requires extra man-hours and supplies to keep clear in winter storms.

In an effort to better prepare the county to manage its vulnerability to disasters, Reichling applied last summer for a Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) planning grant. The county received a $20,000 grant, which was matched with another $5,000 by the county.

The Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program, directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides funds to local governments, communities and universities for hazard mitigation planning and for the implementation of those projects in the plans. PDM grants are awarded on a competitive basis.

Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. This is achieved through risk analysis and by developing a foundation of activities to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to human life and property from hazards.

Preventative actions can be simple, such as elevating a furnace in a basement that sometimes has water on the floor.

Reichling used Darlington's plan projects as an example of successful mitigation. Some buildings prone to flooding were filled in and sealed, and the furnaces and other appliances moved up one floor.

Mitigation can also have a comprehensive approach, such as relocating buildings out of the flood plain, or strengthening facilities to prevent wind damage and provide stronger shelter.

The plans and projects are intended not only to reduce overall risks to people and buildings, but also to reduce reliance on government funding after actual disasters. Hazard mitigation is intended to break the cycle of damage and repair.

"Every year, year after year, things happen in the same area, and you know it happens regularly," Reichling said. "So rather than depend on FEMA to come in and fix your houses and businesses, this reduces or eliminates (recurring costs)."

Reichling said the planning process will look at ways to alleviate known risks and problems.

"We have one road that crosses the Pecatonica River, and it's a low-lying road. A flooding closes the road," he said. "But if we raise the road and put a new bridge over (the river), the water would have room to flow underneath."

The PDM grant provides the funds to complete a mitigation plan - to develop mitigation goals and objectives; identify and prioritize mitigation actions; formulate an implementation strategy, identify policies, activities, and tools; and assemble the planning document. The plan also outlines the potential cost-effectiveness of the activities. The plan must pass approval by local, state and federal agencies.

The Hazard Mitigation Plan will then serve as a road map to fully developing mitigation projects, some of which may be implemented using FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance or other agency funding.

As part of this planning process, Reichling is assembling a work group to review and guide planning activities. The work group is reviewing initial background information about Lafayette County and has begun identifying strategies that might help.

"I am very excited about this part of the planning process. The input from the work group can have long-lasting impacts, making Lafayette County safer and more disaster resistant," Reichling said.

Wisconsin has incurred disaster-related damages totaling nearly $3 billion in the last three decades, with almost half of that occurring in the 1990s alone, according to Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM). For every dollar spent on mitigation, an estimated $2-$5 in future damages can be avoided.

Reichling said Wisconsin has an outstanding Hazard Mitigation Office.

"Wisconsin is strong in the mitigation program," Reichling said. "I give (WEM State Hazard Mitigation Officer) Roxann Gray the credit. She has been the driving force, I believe, in getting Wisconsin ahead of everybody (in developing mitigation plans).

FEMA recognizes the importance of members of the community being involved in the process, and Reichling would like all interested members of the community to have an opportunity to provide input. Individuals interested in more information about the plan or would like to provide input may contact Reichling at (608) 776-4870.