Paul Taylor: Now is the time to prepare for weather disasters

Paul Taylor

After an active disaster year in the Midwest, FEMA Region VII wants you to take time to prepare for what could be a busy 2020.

Last year was devastating for our region — from severe flooding in Nebraska and Iowa to more flooding and tornadoes ripping through Kansas and Missouri, reminding us all that severe weather can strike anywhere, anytime.

Each year, Midwesterners are killed or seriously injured by winter storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and floods despite advanced warning. Nationwide, there were more than 400 weather-related fatalities and nearly 1,100 injuries in 2018 alone. Additionally, tens of thousands of people suffered property damage to their homes and businesses. Damage to public infrastructure in 2019 is still being calculated, but we know that it’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Disaster impacts have no boundaries. They affect us all. Now is the time to get ready.

To locally elected officials: Reduce. Prevent. Save.

Mitigation means taking steps to reduce or prevent future disaster damage. It pays incredible dividends by saving lives, property and money.

Recently, the National Association of Building Sciences updated its report on the Value of Mitigation, finding that every dollar spent prior to a disaster results in a post-disaster cost avoidance of $6, an increase from $4 in 2005.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of mitigation grants are offered to pay for projects that reduce or prevent future damage. And every year, money is left on the table unused. If we put our efforts into hazard mitigation planning and action, we not only save lives and property but dollars during future disasters.

When looking at future development and construction, remember to enforce locally adopted floodplain ordinances and take into account new floodmapping data. Flood hazards change over time. How water flows and drains can be different because of changes in weather, topography, land use and community development.

Take advantage of the “blue sky” days to plan ahead. FEMA offers a suite of training programs, most either offered free of charge or FEMA grant dollars can be used for these purposes: https://www.fema.gov/training.

Put together debris management plans and consider Procurement Disaster Assistance Training that FEMA also provides.

To individuals: Know your risk. Take action. Be an example.

The first step to becoming disaster-ready is to understand all the types of hazardous weather that could affect you and your family, including where you live and work.

Next, learn how to prepare for emergencies. Here are some ideas:

• Contact your local emergency manager and/or go online to www.ready.gov for tips and information.

• Sign up for local alerts from emergency management officials.

• Buy a weather radio.

• Pledge to develop an emergency plan and post it where family members and visitors can see it.

• Practice how and where to take shelter before severe weather strikes.

• Download FEMA’s mobile app or other weather-related apps, so you can access important safety tips on what to do before, during and after severe weather.

• Stay informed by using multiple weather-alert sources such as a NOAA Weather Radio, online at www.weather.gov, and Wireless Emergency Alerts. Subscribe to receive alerts at www.weather.gov/subscribe.

• Have secure copies of important medical, financial, insurance and other key records that you can access in an emergency so you can start recovery as soon as possible.

Flooding affected the entire region in 2019, and the best defense for any home or business against the hazard of flooding is flood insurance, plain and simple.

As directed by Congress, FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program. In 2019, there were nearly 3,800 NFIP claims that paid approximately $148 million in our region. Missouri led the way with approximately $69 million in claims paid. The National Weather Service is again predicting a wet 2020 with high potential for flooding — and you don’t need to live near the water to experience significant flooding. Almost 25% of flood insurance claims come from areas not considered at high risk for flooding.

Just 1 inch of water can cause up to $25,000 in damage to your home and most home, business and rental insurance policies do not cover flood damage. So even if you think you are OK, remember: Where it rains, it can flood. At the very least, it does not hurt to contact your insurance agent and ask about how much a flood policy would cost. It could be less than you think. It takes 30 days for an NFIP policy to go into effect, so now is the time to be looking into this, not when the water is rising.

Paul Taylor is the regional administrator of FEMA Region VII, which includes Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

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