District to help cities, counties plan for disasters plans

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2003

CENTREVILLE &045; The Southwest Planning and Development District is identifying local governments that intend to participate in the development of a regional hazard mitigation plan.

A federal law passed in 2000. &uot;required cities and counties to come up with plans to lessen the impact of disasters&uot; in order to receive federal disaster mitigation grants, said Bobby Smith, a geographical information systems specialist with SPDD.

&uot;FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Association) has always had a mitigation fund to help small cities and counties with disaster recovery. ‘Recovery’ was the key word,&uot; Smith said.

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Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes &045; and industrial, technological and societal disasters &045; are among the common natural disasters that hazard mitigation plans will address. &uot;They need to look at their infrastructure, too.

For instance, what if the electrical power goes out at the hospital?

They could use this money to purchase a generator to lessen the impact of that happening,&uot; Smith said.

Though cities and towns may develop their own plans, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has provided SPDD with specialized software to tailor each local government’s plan.

&uot;We have a step-by-step process to use to identify hazards and mitigate those hazards,&uot; Smith said.

Governments will appoint representatives to a steering committee that is set to meet in May. A regional draft plan must be completed by June 2004, and final plans must be sent to MEMA and FEMA by November 2004.

Smith said GIS technology will be used in the development of the plans, because some amount of mapping will be required in almost all jurisdictions.

&uot;So many cities and towns have struggled without GIS technology,&uot; said Smith, adding that governments can use the technology to improve property and parcel mapping, zoning systems and even to provide more efficient routes for school buses and garbage trucks.

Amite County native James Causey has researched ways for local governments to utilize global positioning system (GPS) satellite technology to locate disaster sites.

&uot;You establish waypoints at a given location, and then you can locate anything you want to, regardless of what happens at the surface,&uot; said Causey.

Causey, a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel, said precision farming is probably the most sophisticated use of GPS technology in the civilian world, though he sees the potential for using GPS systems to contain and eradicate any number of threats, from pine beetle infestations to communicable disease outbreaks.