Friday, May 2, 2008

Is North Carolina at Risk of Losing Federal Disaster Assistance?

In September 2004 the mountain region of North Carolina was in a state of emergency when rainfall-activated landslides caused loss of life and massive property destruction. Governor Mike Easley requested and the state received two federal disaster declarations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $72 million in aid.

Federal disaster assistance comes with stipulations.

Emergency management professionals know that landslides are predictable and preventable hazardous events. In an effort to reduce the incidence of these costly catastrophes, Congress amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in 2000.

To qualify for federal assistance, all states must adopt strict hazard mitigation standards or risk losing access to emergency funds. Section 322 of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires that all State mitigation plans:
(1) identify the natural hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities of areas in the State;
(2) support development of local mitigation plans;
(3) provide for technical assistance to local and tribal governments for mitigation planning and
(4) identify and prioritize mitigation actions that the State will support, as resources become available.
The North Carolina State Hazard Mitigation Plan/Update of October 2007 :
This… Plan was developed to help serve the people of North Carolina by providing impetus for making our homes…as safe as possible against the impacts of …natural hazards….Therefore, this Plan is designed to be (1)informative, (2) strategic and (3) functional in nature.
The Plan finds that the state meets federal requirements and remains qualified to obtain disaster assistance.

Is this statement true? Is the state in compliance?

North Carolina's "Build Anywhere" approach to hazardous land development is a blatant violation of federal requirements. The following history indicates the State Hazard Mitigation Plan is non-functional: It neglects to inform and has no strategic intent.

In 1998 the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management warned state and county regulators that the 21 counties known as Western North Carolina were at extreme risk for landslides. If these state and county officials were confused about the accuracy of the report, the fifteen county slope failures of September 2004 should have made this risk assessment crystal clear.

The federal mapping program was authorized in February 2005. Today only 2 sets of probability maps have been completed for the 21 county region. The hazard maps for Macon and Watauga counties show that much of the mountainous land in these two counties is likely to experience landslides. The North Carolina Geological Survey has identified hundreds of homes that have been built on landslides or in their paths. These "at risk" properties will be impacted by slope failures, it is only a question of when.

Landslides and their devastating personal and financial costs are a well kept state secret. Realtors are not obliged to reveal the region's high risk natural hazard designation or the existence of the mapping program.

When the next landslide disasters occur, will Washington provide the critical emergency funds?

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