Planning efforts and documents are incredibly central to everything we do in preparedness. When we look at the spectrum preparedness elements of Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises (POETE), ‘planning’ being first should be a reminder that everything goes back to planning. Our organizations, equipment, training, and exercises should all reflect back on plans. These aren’t just emergency operations plans, either, but should include all plans.
A fundamental plan for many jurisdictions is the hazard mitigation plan. Most responders tend to ignore this plan as it’s not about response, but it has a great deal of valuable information. Hazard mitigation plans are built on a lot of research and data analysis, trends, and science behind a variety of hazards that could impact the area. For as much as hazard mitigation plans can get neck-deep into science, they are not only good references but can be built into good, actionable plans. The leadership of practically every agency in a jurisdiction should be involved in the development and update of hazard mitigation plans and be knowledgeable of what they contain. That said, there are a couple of issues I have with how hazard mitigation plans are done.
First of all, they should be developed to be more than a catalog of information, which is how many are built. We should be able to do something with them. FEMA’s standards for hazard mitigation planning have gotten better and better through the years, thankfully. While their standards include the identification of potential projects for a jurisdiction to address hazards, I’ve seen many plans (and the firms that develop them) cut this section particularly short. I’ve seen plans developed for major jurisdictions having only a handful of projects, yet I’ve had experience developing plans for much smaller jurisdictions and identifying a significant list of prioritized projects. While the onus is ultimately on the stakeholders of the jurisdiction to identify projects, consulting firms should still be actually consulting… not just regurgitating and formatting what stakeholders provide them. A good consultant will advise, suggest, and recommend. If your consultant isn’t doing so, it’s probably time to find someone else.
The second issue I have with hazard mitigation plans is that so many truly aren’t ‘all-hazard’. Many hazard mitigation plans address natural hazards and some human-caused hazards, such as damn failures and hazardous materials incidents. Rarely do we see hazard mitigation plans addressing hazards such as cyber attacks or active shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) incidents. There are some obvious issues with this. First, the hazard mitigation plan is generally looked upon to have the best collection of data on hazards for the jurisdiction. If it excludes hazards, then there is no one good place to obtain that information. This is particularly dangerous when other plans, such as EOPs, may be based upon the hazards identified in the hazard mitigation plan. As I mentioned at the beginning, if something isn’t referenced in our planning efforts, it’s likely not to be included in the rest of our preparedness efforts. Second, if these other hazards aren’t in our hazard mitigation plans, where are we documenting a deliberate effort to mitigate against them? While hazards like cyber attacks or ASHER incidents are generally seen to be mitigated through actions labeled ‘prevention’ or ‘protection’, they should still be consolidated into our collective mitigation efforts. Those efforts may transcend traditional hazard mitigation activities, but why would we let tradition impede progress and common sense? A fire wall should be listed as a hazard mitigation project just as flood control barrier is. And bollards or large planters are valid hazard mitigation devices just as much as a box culvert.
Let’s be smart about hazard mitigation planning. It’s a foundational element of our comprehensive preparedness activities. We can do better.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP