On behalf of the entire County, Kern County’s Board of Supervisors adopted the original Multi-Jurisdictional Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2006. The governing federal law requires that the plan be reviewed and updated within five years in order to continue to be eligible for mitigation grant project funding. The 2011-12 plan update process will meet this requirement. The update process will address changes in hazard identification, vulnerability analysis, local mitigation capabilities, and progress made during the original five years to prevent or reduce future losses from natural hazards.
What is Hazard Mitigation?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines hazard mitigation as, “any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards.” Another way to understand hazard mitigation is as the prevention component of the emergency management process.
· Preparedness activities are the emergency plans, training, drills, and exercises that individuals, communities and first responders participate in on almost daily basis. These are things done to get ready for an emergency or disaster before it happens.
· Response is the short-term, emergency actions taken to address the immediate impacts of a hazard.
· Recovery is the longer-term process of restoring the community back to normal or pre-disaster conditions.
· Mitigation activities are actions that will reduce or eliminate losses, for anticipated future events. Mitigation can reduce or eliminate the need for an emergency response and greatly reduce the recovery period.
Many types of mitigation actions are things done on a daily basis without much forethought such as purchasing insurance to protect a vehicle investment, putting on your seatbelt, or putting in gutters around a roof to better direct rain runoff. The same concepts apply to community level hazard mitigation planning. Mitigation planning is a process for county and local governments to identify community-level policies and actions that will reduce the impacts of natural hazards.
Why is Natural Hazard Mitigation Important?
Most people who live or work in Kern County or its jurisdictions have been affected by natural hazards in one way or another. Some of the natural hazards that can affect Kern County include flooding, wildfire, severe weather, earthquake, dam failure, landslide, and drought. Kern County has had much experience with disasters and emergencies in the recent past. A highlighted few include the Piute, Bull, West, and Canyon wildfires; winter storms, flooding, mudflows, and debris; extreme heat and extreme cold; as well as the December 2010 Statewide Storms event that caused millions of dollars in damages to roads, schools, parks, and critical infrastructure, such as landfills and water control facilities throughout Kern County. In addition to these large events, almost every year there are smaller, isolated weather events that cause localized property damage and losses significant to the people affected. The planning process will evaluate the potential for future damaging events and work toward solutions to help mitigate their impacts in the future.
Hazard Mitigation Plans
The rising costs associated with disaster response and recovery has caused federal, state, and local governments to focus on addressing natural hazards before they occur. The acts of “Mother Nature” cannot be prevented, but the impacts thereby can be reduced and sometimes prevented altogether. It takes, on the part of a community, a cohesive planning effort from all sectors in identifying the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities of natural disasters on specific geographic areas within a jurisdiction. In Kern County this includes three regions: Valley, Mountain, and Desert. That is how a Multi-Jurisdictional Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan is developed. A community comes together as a team (Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee, or HMPC) in a facilitated forum to gather data that is then organized into a plan which identifies goals, objectives and actions pertaining to mitigating impacts from identified natural hazards. As the plan is developed, the HMPC reviews the data for accuracy and the public at large has an opportunity to comment and have their comments incorporated before a final draft is completed. FEMA realizes the importance of mitigation planning and offers incentives to communities that develop one. By following FEMA guidelines for a plan approval process, participating communities can be eligible for grant funding intended for mitigation projects. It is an opportunity for communities to take advantage of funds they would not have been able to tap into previously.
Kern County has received a State Homeland Security grant to support this planning effort with the Kern County Office of Emergency Services taking the lead. It has hired a consulting team, AMEC Earth and Environmental, Inc. and Robert Olson Associates, Inc. to manage the project. AMEC will facilitate the planning process, collect necessary data, and perform other technical services, including writing the risk assessment and plan document. These two firms prepared the original mitigation plan.
A planning team has been organized and meets on a regular basis, working through varying levels of review, revision, and update of the following elements of the plan:
· Identify hazards that may impact or have impacted the community;
· Profiles of the most recent hazard events;
· Assessment of the vulnerability to those hazards;
· Assessment of the communities’ capabilities to mitigate the hazards;
· Mitigation goals and objectives;
· Specific mitigation actions and projects;
· Implementation strategy for the plan;
· Plan maintenance and update process;
· Plan approval and adoption.
The planning team includes representatives from various County Departments and other participating jurisdictions that include Bakersfield, Taft, Tehachapi, Shafter, McFarland, Delano, California City, and Arvin; many special districts such as school, airport, utilities, and water; community emergency response teams (CERTs); and fire safe councils (FSCs). Other stakeholders include representatives from the Kern Council of Governments (Kern COG), state and federal agencies, and neighboring counties, such as Tulare and Ventura.
How Can You Get Involved?
Members of the community have a very important role in this process. The planning team regards broad public participation in the planning process as an essential strategy for developing a plan that will be effective, supported by the public, and ultimately implemented. The process will provide a range of opportunities for Kern County and its participating jurisdictions’ citizens, public officials, and stakeholder groups to participate and give input into the plan update. Public meetings will be held in various locations in the County before the updated plan is finalized. Interested persons can contact the representatives noted below for more information. The Kern County Fire Department website will be updated periodically so that public and stakeholders to stay informed of upcoming activities, review drafts of the plan, and to provide feedback.