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While it may be impossible to predict when a natural disaster will strike, the City of Williamsburg has placed itself in a better position to respond to such hazards.
Williamsburg’s City Council adopted the Hampton Roads Hazard Mitigation Plan at a meeting Thursday. The plan was created in conjunction with 21 other Hampton Roads municipalities, including York and James City Counties, according to meeting documents.
“The region is vulnerable to a wide range of hazards that threaten the safety of residents and have the potential to damage or destroy both public and private property and disrupt the local economy and overall quality of life,” read meeting documents regarding the Hazard Mitigation Plan. “While the threat from hazards may never be fully eliminated, the Hampton Roads Hazard Mitigation Plan recommends specific actions designed to protect residents, business owners and the built environment.”
The federal Hazard Mitigation Act of 2000 requires localities to adopt hazard mitigation plans in order to be eligible for disaster financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to meeting documents. The plan must be updated every five years, and was last updated in 2011.
“My primary motivator to pass this is, if we don’t have a hazard mitigation plan, we’re doing the general community a disservice, and then we also then run the risk of not being able to get federal funds in the case of a state of emergency,” said Mayor Paul Freiling. “It’s not only a good thing to do, it’s an absolutely necessary thing to do.”
Freiling also said he was impressed by the hard work and coordination between the 22 localities in creating the plan.
According to the Hazard Mitigation Plan, “The 2015-2017 plan update process represents the first time that mitigation planning in the Hampton Roads region has been addressed on such a large regional basis. Some previous plans were regional in nature, but covered a smaller geographic area with many shared traits.”
The plan outlines eight key actions that will be taken by the city. These include improving drainage system maintenance, continue to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, maintain StormReady Designation through the National Weather Service, continue Colonial Williamsburg’s Tree Mitigation Program, Continue Shelter generator maintenance and monitoring, improving GIS digital mapping, expediting damage assessment data collection through automated software, expanding social media and mass notification systems, and expanding capacity for Community Emergency Response Teams and neighborhood-serving organizations to include communication about mitigation and response.
“Any tropical weather is a huge concern for us. We have neighborhoods that have large trees,” said Williamsburg Fire Chief Pat Dent. “Weather events are typically our highest risk that we’re concerned with.”
Dent said Williamsburg is not as susceptible to flooding hazards as some of the other communities included in the plan, but added the city must be ready to face any potential hazards. He also listed winter storms and power outages caused by toppled power lines as hazards faced by the city.
According to the approved resolution, the plan was prepared and updated in coordination with FEMA and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and was tentatively approved in advance of adoption by participating governments.