FEMA Releases New State Mitigation Plan Review Guide

FEMA recently announced the release of the new State Mitigation Plan Review Guide (“Guide”). The updated Guide clarifies federal regulations that apply to FEMA; policy; and guidance around state hazard mitigation plan for state agencies and other officials developing mitigation plans. The Guide helps ensure a consistent plan review process for FEMA and the states that aim to improve the analysis and integration of evolving risks, such as climate change. The Guide will go into effect in approximately one year on March 6, 2016, for all state mitigation plans submitted to FEMA for review and approval. The transitional period allows time for FEMA and the states to work together to support their familiarity and understanding of the updated Guide. Indian tribal governments should follow the Tribal Multi-Hazard Mitigation Planning Guidance.

We bring this to your attention because states will need to take a holistic approach and include not only emergency management, but also the sectors of economic development, land use and development, housing, health and social services, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources, in their planning process and mitigation program, where practicable.

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NJCAR in the Driver’s Seat

Back in January, we posted an article about the formation of New Jersey’s state-level cultural heritage emergency network, the New Jersey Cultural Alliance for Response (NJCAR). The network’s activities continue in high gear. Michele Stricker, Associate Director of Library Support Service at the New Jersey State Library, has agreed to serve as the Chair of NJCAR. Four standing committees have been established – Membership, Information Resources, Program, and Development – and each chair will be selecting members for their respective committees. On February 17, 2015, the NJCAR By-laws were adopted by a unanimous vote. The by-laws are available on NJCAR’s new website.

NJCAR has already planned two activities for New Jersey – two intensive hands-on disaster response and recovery workshops to increase practical knowledge through a simulated disaster, and a statewide summit to introduce NJCAR to cultural institutions and emergency responders at the local and regional levels. The trainings and summit will be held at regional police and fire training centers in north, south, and central New Jersey to increase participation by local emergency responders.

Heritage Preservation is proud to be one of NJCAR’s founding organizations.

Expedite Post-Disaster Access Through Credentialing

At the February 17, 2015, Miami-Dade County Public-Private Sector Partnership meeting, the topic of credentialing arose. (It was also a topic of discussion at the 2013 Alliance for Response Miami kick-off forum.) How do cultural stewards gain access to their institutions following a disaster, given the critical need to stabilize the environment and assess damage to collections? Steve Detwiler, Whole Community Recovery Planner of the Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management and AFR Miami’s co-chair, shared information on credentialing essential employees. Use the following tips and guidance to kick-start a discussion with your local and state emergency managers.

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FEMA Implements New Disaster Grant Obligations Process

FEMA will be implementing a new process to award Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program project funds to grantees for disasters declared after March 1, 2015. After this change is initiated in the financial management system, grantees will be able to see project-by-project obligations and disbursements. Grantees will also be required to request and draw down funding by project.

Benefits of this new disaster grant obligations process include enhanced controls for both FEMA and grantees, simplification of data analytics and a streamlined reporting process. This enhancement to the system will assist grantees in tracking funds on a project-by-project basis. It will also allow FEMA to better understand which funds are being drawn down and for which purposes. This will allow a more transparent platform for tracking funds, required quarterly reporting and audit purposes.

This new process will not be applied retroactively to prior disasters. Previously, FEMA obligates Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds into a single large account where grantees can draw down funds from. Disasters declared before March 1, 2015 will not be affected by this new change and will continue to operate as they always have in a lump sum format.

A webinar will be held on February 25 at 1 p.m. ET to provide an overview of the system enhancement as well as training on how to use the new interface and draw down project funding. Participants can join the webinar via Adobe Connect or by dialing 1-800-320-4330 and entering 455513 for the conference PIN.

A Disaster Mitigation Framework for Cultural Resources

In 2011, the state cultural heritage emergency network COSTEP MA (Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness in Massachusetts) received a three-year Hazard Mitigation grant from FEMA through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The goal of the project was to increase public awareness – particularly by cultural stewards, emergency managers, municipal planners, and other town officials – of mitigation actions that could safeguard cultural collections in their municipality. The project encouraged collaboration between the cultural and emergency management communities for the protection of cultural and historic resources. Deliverables included conducting 14 community meetings across the state, offering four Risk Assessment and Mitigation Planning workshops, and producing a framework on how others can conduct a similar program at the state, regional, or local level.  The framework – Mitigation for Memory: A Disaster Mitigation Framework for Cultural Resources is available here on COSTEP MA’s website. If you have any questions, contact Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Preservation Specialist, at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Report on Coastal Storm and Flood Risk in the US North Atlantic Region

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in a press release that it has just released the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study (NACCS). The report brought together experts from Federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and academia, to assess the flood risks facing coastal communities and ecosystems and collaboratively develop a coastal storm risk management framework to address increasing risks, which are driven in part by increased frequency and intensity of storm events and rising sea levels due to a changing climate. The NACCS provides tools and information, including a nine-step Coastal Storm Risk Management Framework that can be used by communities, states, tribes, and the Federal government to help identify coastal risk and develop strategies for reducing those risks. The report and all associated documents and tools are available here.

Libraries and Librarians as Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources

A recent article in NJ Municipalities magazine highlighted the role that libraries and librarians have played in disaster response and illustrates ways that librarians can pursue a more active role in assisting first responders and federal agencies in the wake of a disaster. “Sheltering in the Stacks” describes how, after Superstorm Sandy, many New Jersey libraries served as not only community centers – places where residents could come to recharge cell phones, get a warm drink, or stay comfortable and safe – but also as unofficial Disaster Recovery Centers. As trusted public resources, libraries are an obvious choice for people to turn to in the event of a disaster, especially for access to and assurance of accurate information. In addition to these ways that libraries assisted their patrons, the article also encourages libraries and librarians to organize Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs). VOSTs consist of community volunteers who are trained to support the efforts of officials and first responders by bringing crucial information to their attention, collecting and prioritizing disaster-related reports from the public through social media.

The New Jersey State Library has recognized the importance of libraries and librarians in both resiliency and post-disaster recovery work and are creating a toolkit to help these “information first responders” in their work. The toolkit will consist of online resources designed to train librarians in proactive response techniques, and will include tools to increase preparedness, develop a disaster recovery plan for the facility itself, and provide advice on budgeting, operational challenges, and expectation management. The toolkit will provide information tailored to assist different parts of the community, such as local businesses, non-profit organizations, and other members of the public, allowing librarians to feel confident advising patrons on subjects ranging from documentation and business insurance to federal and private loans. The resources in the toolkit will aid librarians in disaster planning, response, and mitigation, providing a comprehensive picture of the roles and responsibilities libraries can fill in the community in the event of a disaster. The New Jersey State Library will present the completed toolkit at the New Jersey Library Association Conference in April, paving the way for other states to create similar resources. For more information about this exciting project, contact Michele Stricker, Associate Director, Library Support Services, at the New Jersey State Library.