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State's hazard strategy approved by feds

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The state of Georgia has a plan to mitigate the damage done by drought and dam failure, severe weather, seismic shifts and even sinkholes.

The plan, Georgia Emergency Management Agency's 2008 Hazard Mitigation Strategy, was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency this month. The formal approval makes Georgians eligible for federal money, in case of a declared disaster.

The plan is the "state's sophomore mitigation planning effort," according to the executive summary of the 211-page strategy, and "is updated to include a more detailed account of the state planning process; a more detailed and more methodical assessment of Georgia's hazard history, hazard risk and social vulnerability."

GEMA spokesman Ken Davis said the state agency has been "at the forefront" of states strategizing ways to mitigate the damage done by natural disasters. He said the 2008 strategy update shows the work the agency has done since "about the time of the floods of 1994," which devastated and paralyzed South Georgia.

In 2007, wildfires turned 21 counties into an emergency declaration area, as more than 21,000 acres burned, and an estimated $10 million of timber was destroyed. In early 2008, a tornado struck downtown Atlanta .

The hazard mitigation strategy is intended to reduce human vulnerability, reduce losses, and limit the "exposure of people and property" to natural disasters. It outlines the state's response to all sorts of natural disasters, including those of recent history. The document also warns that the state can expect more devastating disasters and would do well to be prepared and implement mitigation plans.

"The expanding sprawl of metropolitan Atlanta, increasing coastal and mountainous area developments, and increasing impoverishment in agricultural communities throughout the State [leads] to an increased 'hazardousness of place,'" according to the report.

In the 211-page document, the natural disasters in the state of Georgia are considered and categorized, as part of the preparation for future devastation. A table that notes "ongoing drought conditions" throughout the state also includes a reference to a drought in north-central Georgia from 1924 to 1927, which was "one of the most severe of the century."

The report suggests the damage done by natural disasters can be limited by implementing:

· An increased coordination between local, state and federal agencies

· Increasing awareness of the hazard mitigation plan

· A broad range of mitigation programs

· A periodic assessment of program management, projects and initiatives

The plan is an update to the 2005 Hazard Mitigation Strategy, in order to meet FEMA requirements. It was signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in December 2007, and is well into the implementation phase, according to GEMA officials.

Of the 92 specific state and local objects outlined in the 2008 plan, 58 were considered to be completed, or already underway.