WHITMAN — The Board of Selecmen has adopted a resolution accepting the Old Colony Region Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, developed for the Brockton-based Old Colony Planning Council’s (OCPC) 15 member communities.
OCPC Community Planner Eric Arbeene and Council member Fred Gilmetti outlined the plan for the Board of Selectmen at its Tuesday, Sept. 15 meeting, broadcast on Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV.
The plan was financed by a FEMA grant in 2010 with the aim of updating a plan done in 2006.
“These plans have a five-year life span,” Arbeene said. “We were hoping to get it done by 2011, but due to some logistical issues with FEMA, we didn’t even begin the plan until 2011 when we had funds.”
Because of the logistical problems, Arbeene said the next plan will not be multi-jurisdictional, but instead an individual town plan, which the state prefers. That will happen when the 2015 plan expires in 2020.
“I strongly urge the community, about three years from now, to start updating this plan,” he said because, while FEMA quotes 45 days as the typical time taken up by the process, Arbeene said it typically takes eight months.
FEMA and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) have approved the current plan, Arbeene said. There is, he stressed, no penalty for falling short of accomplishing all the identified tasks, as the agencies are more concerned with ensuring that the town is actively addressing them.
Hazard mitigation plans are designed to avoid problems before they become emergencies to be addressed by emergency management plans, he explained. Improvements to culverts that are prone to overflow before they undermine a roadway is one example of a mitigation project.
The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 encourages adoption of the plans and the state and most communities — whether independently or as part of a multi-jurisdiction group such as the OCPC — have mitigation plans in place, according to Arbeene. Adoption of the plan makes a community eligible for competitive grants to improve identified hazards.
A grant period is now open through which the town may apply for a grant for a backup generator at Whitman Middle School, which is also an emergency shelter by adopting the plan.
“You focus your resources on your greatest vulnerabilities,” he said.
The plan identifies “anything that could possibly happen” in the region, even rare occurrences such as earthquakes and tornadoes, as well as a risk assessment.
“We worked with the fire chief, the police chief and folks here in town to identify what are known as critical facilities deemed essential in an emergency,” Arbeene said. It’s an open-ended definition that, in some places includes churches as well as hospitals and DPW facilities.
Flood zones, hurricane tracks, wildfire risks and other potential treats were then mapped and overlayed on a map labeling the critical facilities so an action plan can be formed.
“Mitigation strategies are the heart of the plan to reduce loss and risk,” he said.
Selectman Dan Salvucci said the Whitman Emergency Management Agency is very active and adept at identifying risk areas in need of mitigation. But he welcomed the added benefit of the regional plan.
“I’m glad we’re doing this and we can continue to do this,” he said. “You can’t fix what you don’t know is a problem.”