For the second time in just a matter of weeks, the State of Alabama has experienced dangerous and destructive tornadoes. Autauga and Wetumpka counties were hit by an EF2 twister in mid-January. And, just last weekend, Lee County was the target of a massive EF4 tornado with 170 mph winds. It claimed the lives of 23 people, injured many others, and left behind a huge path of destruction that will take weeks, if not months, to clean up. Accordingly, President Trump approved an expedited Major Disaster Declaration for Alabama on March 5, 2019.

As explained by FEMA, a major disaster declaration allows people to participate in federal assistance programs. Such programs provide individual assistance for essentials like emergency shelter, as well as public assistance for things like debris removal, emergency protective measures, etc. Certain major disaster declarations, like the one recently issued for Alabama, also support post-disaster funding for statewide hazard mitigation efforts.

Hazard mitigation is basically any action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property. For some, this may include the installation of tornado sirens, the building of safe rooms, the buying and clearing of property, etc. For others, it may mean bolstering levees, stockpiling sandbags, or even implementing an emergency notification system.

Such vital projects are typically identified (and prioritized) in a state, county or tribal government’s Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP). These plans are approved by FEMA, and must be updated every five years. That is, for those who want to remain eligible to receive funding through the Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) immediately following such devastating natural disasters.

The recent Alabama tornadoes are a harsh reminder of Mother Nature’s fury, and the need to take proactive measures to safeguard people and property. If your emergency management agency’s HMP is current, and you serve the residents of Alabama, complete those HMGP applications now. The window of opportunity is small, so time is of the essence.

If your HMP is not current (or even non-existent), prepare a grant application to develop a plan or update it. Also seek out precious federal dollars through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant Assistance Program. While the money may be hard to come by, it can certainly go a long way toward improving your agency’s readiness and the resilience of the communities it serves going forward.

In the meantime, and on behalf of the entire BOLDplanning team, our thoughts are with you, Alabama.