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Are we prepared for disasters?

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Emergency planning stems from federal legislation passed in 2000, as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), called the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. It is also known as the Disaster Relief Public Health and Welfare Act, where Congress declared that because "disasters often cause loss of life, human suffering, loss of income, and property loss and damage; and because disasters often disrupt the normal functioning of governments and communities, and adversely affect individuals and families with great severity; special measures, designed to assist the efforts of the affected states in expediting the rendering of aid, assistance and emergency services, and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated areas, are necessary."

The law revised and broadened the scope of existing disaster relief programs after FEMA was created in 1979; encouraged the development of comprehensive disaster preparedness and assistance plans, programs, capabilities and organizations by states and local government; and encouraged hazard mitigation measures to reduce losses from disasters. First plans had to be completed and submitted in 2005.

Oakland County recently submitted its 2017 version, Hardesty said, to the state and once approved it will go before the Oakland County Board of Commissioners for final approval, allowing them to move forward with that updated plan. The 2013 plan evaluated over 50 potential hazards, based upon historical research, up-to-date information and intelligence reports provided to them, surveys, community workshops and public meetings. Significant hazards it recognized include high winds and tornadoes; hazmat incidents, both from transportation and at fixed sites; ice and sleet; snowstorms, which interfere with traffic and power; infrastructure failures; flooding; public health emergencies; and petroleum and natural gas pipeline accidents.

"There are constant updates (thoughout the four years), but not huge changes," Hardesty said. The biggest update in the 2017 plan includes dealing with lone wolf rogue drivers, mass shooters, and computer and infrastructure hackers, all emergency situations which have become critical around the world in the last four years.

The county is divided into four zones for preparation of a disaster, and then into state districts, allowing for coordination of police departments, fire and EMS rescue plans, road capacity and direction to and from population centers, hospitals and health care planning. Changes from the 2017 plan have been made based on population changes, preparations and information updates of law enforcement, hospital capacity, and support from federal agencies. "That part is continual getting grant funding for projects we support. We work a lot with the feds, with FEMA," Hardesty said. "We get a little each year. The intention of the Trump Administration is to seek a 25 percent grant match for all emergency preparation grants."

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