Idaho County hazard plans available for review through Sept. 14

— Updates are completed on a draft Idaho County multi-hazard mitigation plan that the public now has an opportunity to review and comment on into the fall.

Largely, proposed changes are increments of fine-tuning based on a performance review by regional law enforcement and emergency medical service providers of what has and hasn’t worked in the existing plan, what mitigation projects have been completed and where new work is needed, and focus on growing problems of the modern era.

“Things change over time,” said Jerry Zumalt, Idaho County Emergency Management coordinator. “There are new ways of identifying threats, and prioritizing them in different ways. And as the science evolves, we can apply these to the threats and hazards that exist.”

Starting Aug. 17, the public can review the draft plan at libraries in Grangeville, Riggins, Cottonwood, Kooskia and White Bird, as well as the Idaho County Emergency Management office at the courthouse. Plans will also be available online at http://idahocounty.org/ and http://www.consulting-foresters.com/public-documents/. Comments will be accepted through Sept. 14.

Work started last November on revising the multi-hazard mitigation plan (MHMP), required every five years by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The plan’s purpose is to reduce the impact of hazards -- such as floods, landslides, severe weather, wildfire, extended power outage, crop loss, and terrorism/civil unrest -- on Idaho County residents, landowners, businesses, communities, local governments, and state and federal agencies while maintaining appropriate emergency response capabilities and sustainable natural resource management policies.

The MHMP identifies high risk areas as well as structures and infrastructure that may have an increased potential for loss due to a hazard event. The document also recommends specific projects that may help prevent disasters from occurring altogether or, at the least, lessen their impact on residents and property.

This plan allows for the county and local communities to be eligible for grant dollars to implement the projects and mitigation actions identified by the committee. Updates on the MHMP and the county’s community wildfire protection plans are being conducted by Northwest Management, Inc. of Moscow.

According to Zumalt, MHMP changes are partly due to priorities that have been addressed or have changed within the past five years, such as equipment improvements for rural fire departments, establishing MOUs (memorandum of understanding) for interagency assistance, providing Enhanced 911 service for Idaho County Emergency Dispatch, and completing requested mitigation work such as stormwater culvert installation at Cottonwood. Some changes address improved connectivity and leading roles in active shooter, terrorism/cyberterrorism, or hazardous material spill situations. And as well, new mitigation projects for both potential and pending hazards have been identified.

“And it tries to prioritize where we can put limited and scarce resources,” he said.

Public involvement in the planning process has been light, according to Zumalt, but much less suspicious of its intent this go-around than the first time this process was conducted. Public comment has been of help, he added, in identifying concerns and needs emergency planners were not aware of. As well, the time and expertise put in by emergency service providers – ambulance/QRU, law enforcement, fire departments and highway districts -- to updating the plan has been very valuable.

“They really care about their communities,” he said, and bring local perspective about relevant issue and what the local needs are. “These folks really deserve the credit,” he said.

As part of the comment process, area governmental entities -- Idaho County, and the cities of Grangeville, Stites, Riggins, Ferdinand, Kamiah, White Bird, Cottonwood and Kooskia – will be contacted to comment and sign-off on the plan prior to it going to FEMA for review and approval. Zumalt noted the plan is not regulatory but rather a road map to help guide agencies on how to handle hazards whether through prevention and mitigation or in communication and cooperation during an incident.

With a plan in place it also streamlines the process when seeking federal funds for mitigation or disaster recovery projects.

This plan won’t stop hazards but it will help increase the capabilities of area agencies to handle them and hopefully lessen their impacts should they occur, Zumalt said.

“It’s about community safety, preparedness,” he said, “and also personal responsibility to be prepared.”

How to submit comments

Comments on the MHMP must be submitted to the attention of Brad Tucker, Northwest Management, Inc. at tucker@nmi2.com or to P.O. Box 9748, Moscow, ID 83843, by close of business Sept. 14. For information: Jerry Zumalt, Idaho County Emergency Management, 983-3074.

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