Barry County reviews five-year hazard mitigation plan, strategies

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
David Compton, Barry County emergency management director, briefs local members of the community, including school district staff, at the Barry County courthouse, before beginning a review of the hazard mitigation plan for the county, which must be updated every five years, then approved by SEMA and FEMA. The plan determines how local governments and schools will handle the impact of, and respond to, potential natural hazard events or disasters, to protect the lives of Barry Countians, along with property and infrastructure. Julia Kilmer/The Monett Times

Emergency management evaluating outreach, education strategies

The Barry County Commission, local school districts, emergency management and others are reviewing the hazard mitigation plan for the county.

Every five years, public meetings are held to review the plan and determine how local governments will mitigate the impact of natural hazard events such as flooding, ice storms and tornados, with the goals of protecting the lives and minimizing injuries to the people of Barry County, preserving and protecting property and infrastructure and ensuring continued operation of government, emergency functions and critical infrastructure.

Anyone may provide input during the drafting of the plan, which must be revised every five years by local jurisdictions and approved by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), and FEMA to continue to be eligible for mitigation project grant funding. Once approved by FEMA, the county commissioners and governing body of each participating city and school district must pass a resolution adopting the new plan, which will reflect any changes and revisions in local mitigation efforts and priorities. The last plan was updated in January 2012.

The Southwest Missouri Council of Governments (SMCOG) contracted with SEMA and Barry County commissioners to prepare the plan. An initial draft can be seen on the agency's website, at smcog.missouristate.edu. Comments and questions should be directed to Dave Faucett at 417-836-6901 or by email, davefaucett@missouristate.edu.

The plan will be submitted to SEMA by October, then to FEMA by November, then hopefully be approved by the beginning of the year.

At a public meeting, which was held Aug. 29, objectives and subsequent actions in alignment with the plan's goals were discussed and questions asked such as if those objectives were socially acceptable, technically feasible, politically acceptable, economically beneficial, and would they have a positive or negative effect on the environment.

"It's designed to be a plan for the entire county," said David Compton, Barry County emergency management director. "The county commission leads [the project], and the emergency management office, in conjunction with all the school districts and municipalities, get together to work on the plan every five years. This is our third plan so we feel pretty comfortable with what we're doing with it."

In recent years, school districts have taken an active role with the building of storm shelters.

"The school districts have had a more added role in this cycle, and part of this is when school districts have requested FEMA buildings, those have been built with federal matching money, [75 percent from federal dollars and 25 percent matching dollars from the district]," Compton said. "What that does is gives us the justification to say, one of our strategies in our plan is to get as many of these shelters built as we can. And it's great because we're seeing these storm shelters built in almost every community where the schools are."

Purdy, Wheaton and Southwest do not have a FEMA buildings, however, Purdy has begun working toward obtaining one, and Wheaton recently won a ballot initiative to build one.

"Financially, I know Exeter has been a involved in this process and I hope as we move ahead, the districts that didn't have the ability to match the funds, we can find ways we can help them," Compton said. "But when you have districts like Cassville and Monett who have the ability and staff to do it quickly, it's good to support that any way we can.

"Purdy has started the process. I'm going to glean as much as that as I can and put administrations for Purdy and Exeter together because it's very possible they could benefit from the same plan. But for places like Purdy, Exeter and Southwest, because they're required to put all people who live within five minutes of the shelter, it's equally nice for the surrounding community."

Compton said he is not aware of any major revisions that will be made to the mitigation plan, other than potentially implementing the practice of social media to keep the public informed of safety measures concerning hazardous events.

"I believe that one of our strategies that may change is the way we get the word out and community outreach," he said. "We've been really traditional in the way we've done things in the past, but the county as a whole has not had a website [other than the sheriff, assessor's office, etc.] but that's another opportunity where it wouldn't cost much to put up a website to disseminate information and help us with mitigation."

Compton's only hesitation is the potential for what can sometimes be social media's downfall.

"I personally have a little trepidation with social media because it sometimes becomes a forum for inappropriate or unnecessary discussion," he said. "So, I worry about being able to manage the right message [such as conflicting messages about safety]. I want peoples' opinions, but want to make sure we manage [and craft] the right message so the public doesn't get confused. If you do your due diligence on the front end, it may be convoluted as some point, but at least you've done the best you can to manage it.

"But on the upside, I appreciate that the responsibility of one of our elected officials is to communicate with the public in a way they can receive it and use it for the call to action, because having an alert does nothing if it doesn't elicit action from an individual. So, I think we can use social media to help drive public action people need to take. It's all for the sake and safety of the public, that's what we're going to work toward."

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