SLV emergency managers continue Hazard Mitigation Plan work


SAN LUIS VALLEY — San Luis Valley officials, including emergency managers, from all six counties met for their final Hazard Mitigation Plan meeting on Monday afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize about the few final steps of the plan and the final implementation of the plan once it receives approval from FEMA.

Amy Carr, deputy project manager and Hazard Mitigation Planning consultant, began the meeting by reviewing the steps that have been finished to create the plan. For the past several months, local and state officials have been working together to update the San Luis Valley Regional plan and now that it is in the final stages will be working together to put it into place.

The process begins with setting regional goals, creating more specific objectives that ultimately lead to the action plan tied to the original goal. An example may be to have a goal to improve public communications through several objectives during an emergency and then to act on that goal with steps moving toward achieving it within specific counties.

Five of the six counties — Alamosa, Saguache, Conejos, Mineral and Rio Grande — selected three goals for the plan. The three goals were kept intentionally vague to aid with grant funding in the future through FEMA.

The first goal for this plan was to reduce loss of life and personal injury caused by hazards, to reduce damage to critical facilities, personal property and other community assets caused by a hazard, and to minimize economic losses associated with hazards.

Costilla County had a different set of goals than the other five due to the way its goals were selected but were still in line with the rest of the region.

It was explained that the plan will open funding opportunities for mitigation projects through FEMA and that only mitigation projects focused on removing or decreasing the risk of a hazard during the emergency would be funded.

Carr explained that though funding would only be awarded to mitigation projects, requests or parts of the Hazard Mitigation Plan that highlighted a need for equipment and training could still be included.

The point of the plan was to alter hazards in the region by changing the environment around or near a hazard through means such as prescribed burns or fuel management to reduce wildfire severity, fixing damaged dams, bridges or other structures for example. The group also discussed how to avert a hazard by installing infrastructure like floodwalls, drainage or fuel breaks.

There are steps within the plan to also help avoid hazards by literally moving structures from a hazard area or prohibiting building developments in areas that have been identified as hazardous locations, acquiring land to also prohibit building or utilizing open space to redirect a hazard such as flooding. The plan also looks at how to adapt to a hazard and plan accordingly with revised building codes, construction standards or land-use regulations.

One of the most recent steps taken in the process of finalizing the Hazard Mitigation Plan was to reach out to the public via a survey to learn what each community felt were areas of hazard concern. Some of these topics included events like flooding, drought, earthquakes, fires, dam failures or winter storms.

The survey results were shared with the group, and it was determined that though some of the identified areas of concern were like what was included in the plan, the communities within the region also had other concerns that will be added before the plan is finalized.

The plan is updated about every five years and is a living document that can be changed or added to at any time to fit the needs of the region. Once the plan is approved through FEMA, state and local officials will work to implement the plan and put it to work within all six counties throughout the San Luis Valley.