FEMA has approved mitigation plans for 17 towns so far this year
By John McPhaul
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Puerto Rico Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), has approved mitigation plans for 17 municipalities across the island in the past year.
Currently, a total of 30 municipalities have approved plans in place, while the remaining 48 municipalities are actively engaged in updating their plans to help minimize the impacts associated with future disasters.
As an important first step toward qualifying for federal project funding through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Planning Grant Program (HMGP), a local hazard mitigation plan must be in place. These plans incorporate input from communities to identify risks as part of the island’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria. Mitigation plans include proposed projects that may be developed once funding becomes available.
“We are committed to ensuring Puerto Rico’s recovery is effective, and mitigation plays an important role in achieving the shared goal of a resilient island,” said Alex Amparo, federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Emergency management is a cycle and mitigation actions taken by municipalities today lessen the impact of future disasters in our communities.”
Among the municipalities with approved plans is Toa Baja, whose mitigation strategy identifies as a funding priority the need for flood control measures at the La Plata River, which flows into a lake of the same name that provides water to roughly 131,000 residents across several municipalities.
“This is our most important mitigation project, which will not only have a great impact on Toa Baja but is also a regional project that will help with flood control in several municipalities,” said Toa Baja Mayor Bernardo “Betito” Márquez García. “It is fundamental for the future of Toa Baja, since it will achieve a reduction of more than 80 percent of the problems associated with flooding.”
In the neighboring municipality of Bayamón, community surveys led to a plan that prioritizes possible mitigation measures such as a permanent shelter at the Padre Rulfo Fernández School in Santa Juanita and the elevation of a bridge in Barrio Guaraguao’s Chorreras sector, which provides access to about 10,000 residents.
“When assessing risks, past events and the existing condition of communities are taken into consideration through different types of analyses and citizen participation strategies, such as community surveys,” said Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera Jr. “Working with FEMA and COR3 staff on these projects has been a successful and collaborative experience.”
Toward the center of the island, the municipality of Comerío held a series of public participation meetings to determine prospective solutions for their unique challenges. They include stormwater overflow systems for nine state roads, including main arteries used by the municipality’s nearly 21,000 residents such as PR-156, PR-167, PR-782 and PR-781. In addition, the town’s mitigation plan proposes installing hurricane shutters at City Hall, the Municipal Operations Center, and the Public Works and Services Pavilion.
“We had about eight community meetings with different sectors including nine neighborhoods and vulnerable areas of Comerío,” said Jaime García Mercado, Comerío’s director of emergency management. “Thanks to the communication and collaboration with FEMA, we were one of the first 20 municipalities to have its mitigation plan approved and these projects are being used as models for other municipalities.”
COR3 Executive Director Ottmar Chávez highlighted the significance of mitigation plans as part of the island’s recovery process.
“As a result of the disasters we have experienced, various strategies have been outlined to work together with the federal government for the recovery of the island,” he said. “Certainly, the municipalities have been key in this important effort. We are committed to the effective implementation of mitigation plans to lessen the effects of future emergencies and ensure the quality of life of all Puerto Ricans.”
By identifying local threats, each municipality can determine how best to locally reduce or mitigate hazards. Studies have shown that every $1 spent on mitigation activities saves an average of $6 in future disaster costs. Federal funding is available to assist all 78 municipalities in updating or developing mitigation plans as part of the island’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.