FEMA: breaking the repetitive disaster damage scenario

Published:  24 February, 2012

FEMA/Commonwealth share costs of steps taken during rebuilding that will lessen impact of future disasters

Of the more than $200 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to reimburse the commonwealth for infrastructure damage from Irene and Lee, more than $30 million of that will be used to rebuild infrastructure to a higher standard.

The work is known as mitigation - an effort to break the cycle of damage and repair and reduce repetitive losses.

FEMA's Public Assistance (PA) program helps fund local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for eligible disaster-related costs for debris removal, emergency protective measures and repair or restoration of public infrastructure.

FEMA provides 75 percent of the mitigation grant funding. The commonwealth's share of eligible project costs is 22 percent; the remaining three percent is paid for by the applicant. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) administers the program and allocates the funds.

Generally, the PA program restores disaster damaged infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions.  However, where it is cost effective and technically feasible, additional funding can be approved to restore the facility to a higher standard and make it more disaster resistant.

Examples of such projects

The Little Britain Township in Lancaster County experienced flooding well above 100-year flood stage during Tropical Storm Lee. A township-owned bridge that served the sole means of access to a rural housing area collapsed.  Officials were able to mitigate future disaster damage by more than doubling the size of the culvert over which the bridge was constructed; a larger concrete box culvert was substituted for the original metal arch.  The cost to lessen future disaster damage was $103,781.  The total project cost, including mitigation, is $201,187.

Lee left several inches of swift moving water covering Douglas Road in Chanceford Township, York County, washing away two large sections of road surface and the adjacent slopes. During repairs, road crews mitigated future washouts by adding as much as 82 tons of riprap at a cost of $1,080.  The total project cost, including the mitigation measures, is $4,846.

Rushing floodwater from Lee scoured streambeds in Catawissa, Columbia County to expose and bend a lateral water line that supplied Sunset Lane. To mitigate against future disaster damage, workers will encase a section of the water pipe in a larger ductile iron pipe and then encase in reinforced concrete. The cost to mitigate is: $1,001.  Total project cost, including mitigation measures, is $4,192.

"By adding mitigation money to repair costs, our goal is to make the project better able to withstand future disasters of a similar nature," said FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer Thomas J. McCool. "Extra money spent now can reduce future impacts and costs. Our goal is to add mitigation funding to at least one-half of all projects."

Recovery officials are currently working with more than 1,900 applicants to develop specifications and costs for an estimated 6,000 Public Assistance projects.

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