Allamakee County continues work on updating hazard mitigation plan

by Lissa Blake

Allamakee County continues to make progress with the updating of its hazard mitigation plan.

According to Allamakee County Emergency Management Coordinator Corey Snitker, the County received a grant from Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management (IHSEM) to contract with Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) to help update the County’s plan.
In order to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding following a disaster, counties have to have a hazard mitigation plan on file. The plan must be updated every five years in order for a county to maintain its eligibility for funding.

“Each county’s emergency management coordinator has to make sure the plans are updated within their counties. Our last plan was done in 2012, so it’s expiring,” said Snitker.

Snitker has been working with Michelle Barness, community planner with UERPC. “We formed a committee of people from various parts of the county in addition to individuals from each community within the county,” said Snitker.

Snitker said a number of public meetings have been held and the data gathering is on the way to being finished. “We’re almost ready to submit a draft copy,” said Snitker.

CHANGING THREATS
Snitker said when most people think of hazard mitigation, they usually think of natural disasters.

“Of course there are things like weather, flooding, tornadoes and ice storms, but there can also be manmade disasters,” said Snitker.

Snitker cited the hauling of hazardous materials along the railroad, local manufacturing plants that deal with hazardous chemicals or things like natural gas pipelines that run through the county.

“We look at all potential emergencies and we try to come up with ways to either negate or mitigate them,” he said. “We also look at buying out houses in flood zones and creating green space, or at creating tornado-safe rooms for people. We need to look at our shelter plan, especially for our trailer courts. If a hazardous spill happens, we need to have evacuation plans in place.”

COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Barness said although its sometimes easier to engage people whose jobs are directly related to hazard planning, in order to develop a truly comprehensive plan, the committee needs to hear from the general public as well.

“We’re trying to invite residents to these meetings so we can get that perspective - it’s essential to the rest of the conversation,” said Barness.

Barness added periodically updating the plan is essential because the definition of the term “hazard”’ is constantly changing.

“Threats change. Today we look at hazards associated with terrorism - either cyberterrorism or a shooting incident. There are also others, such as the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer or the Avian Flu. We have to start to talk about these and think about how to respond,” she said.

Both Snitker and Barness said a big concern among Allamakee County residents is safety surrounding the railroad that goes through the county. “We can’t impact what travels on the railroad, but we can certainly plan for a potential accident and how best to protect those people who live along the river,” said Barness.

WHAT’S NEXT?
Barness said as the result of countywide research and discussion, a draft of the plan will be completed this fall and submitted to each city.

“It also will be published on our website (uerpc.org) and available for public review,” she said, adding press releases will go out to local media outlets when the preliminary plan is available.

NOT TOO LATE
Barness said it is not too late for the public to share its views on hazard mitigation. “If there’s feedback people want to provide, we definitely want to know about it,” she said.

Anyone who would like to provide input on the hazard mitigation plan is encouraged to contact Snitker at 563-568-1911 or Barness at 563-382-6171. Input also can be submitted by email to mbarness@uerpc.org.
 

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