NHARPC CORNER: Your Community Adopted an Updated Hazard Mitigation Plan – Now What?

Stephanie Alexander, Central NH Regional Planning Commission (CNHRPC) Senior Planner

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

Municipal Hazard Mitigation Plans (Plan) are developed and approved every five years to help protect people, property, and infrastructure from natural hazards and severe weather events. Most Plans consider several human and technological hazards too. Regional planning commissions (RPCs) offer Plan updating services to their communities and work with local Hazard Mitigation Committees (HMC) to complete the updated Plan cooperatively using federal funding and local in-kind match. RPCs regularly communicate with the NH Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (NH HSEM) to understand the content needed for the local Plan update. Once a community has a new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved Plan in hand for the next five years, what should be done with the Plan?

mitigation plan

Implementation is the greatest opportunity a Hazard Mitigation Plan can offer, yet this important step is the one most often skipped during the Plan’s lifecycle. Proactive planning can be difficult when responding to the immediate needs of the community first, but Plan implementation can become part of the municipal services. Reasons why the Plan should be implemented include:

  • Federal Grants. Projects listed in the Plan often require funding the municipality may not be able to raise. With an updated Plan, the community can access several FEMA grants that can help pay for most of certain projects. Eligible Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant programs requiring an active Plan can change every few years. FEMA has a brochure online describing their HMA programs and types of eligible projects at https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_hma-trifold_2021.pdf.
  • Funding Leverage. Once a mitigation project is identified in the Plan, the project can be considered by many departments, boards, or committees within their budgets and planning processes. A single project identified to solve a problem in the community which is listed in multiple long-term planning documents may get more attention and consideration by state, local or non-profit funding programs because it has more community support and added value.
  • Hazard Mitigation Committee (HMC). Yes, the Hazard Mitigation Committee just completed months of work to produce an updated Plan and folks are weary. The HMC probably includes representatives and staff from the Planning Board; Fire and Rescue, Police, and Highway Departments; Town Administration; Library; Conservation, Energy, and Recreation Commissions; Board of Selectmen; interested residents; business representatives; and others. However, this team offers the perfect grouping to share progress on mitigation projects, discuss other mitigation initiatives, locate funding, and collaborate to get the work done. Keep the HMC going after the Plan is completed and give yourselves a three-month breather after the Plan is approved by NH HSEM and FEMA before starting implementation meetings.
  • Completed Mitigation Projects = A Safer Community. The main purpose of the Plan is to identify projects to correct long-term vulnerabilities to natural hazard events. Some of these could be partly fundable through federal HMA grants. Projects could include:
    • Planning regulation & ordinance revisions. Example: Revise the subdivision and site plan review regulations to require road elevation and/or more than one egress for new developments to reduce safety risks from wildfire, winter, and wind/tropical events.
    • Structural projects. Example: Upgrade culverts for better stormwater drainage to reduce the impacts of flood and erosion and to prevent washouts and overtopping.
    • Natural systems protection. Example: Encourage tree plantings around buildings and to shade parking lots to reduce the effects of drought.
    • Public education. Example: Encourage residents to sign up for CodeRed to reduce potential injuries from severe weather events through preventative notification.

The first steps to implementing a fresh Hazard Mitigation Plan can be daunting, but the HMC already has their tools in place to succeed. The HMC should meet about four times per year to complete a rolling list of annual tasks to update and implement the most important Plan sections:

  1. Document new hazard events that occurred in your community to continue the history of impacts.
  2. Coordinate annual completion of active priority mitigation projects (Short Term 1-2 Year and Ongoing actions) by assigning to the responsible department or board.
  3. Ensure the department/board seeks funding for mitigation projects or provides staffing support to complete the priority actions.
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Plan each year and hold onto the notes. This FEMA suggestion can help the HMC determine what needs to be improved in the five-year update.
  5. Obtain a verbal account or written progress report on the status of each priority mitigation project and document the results.
  6. Work on certain Plan sections: update the Mitigation Action Plan, reprioritize actions, and review impactful hazards for the current year. Be sure to retain the revised digital Plan revision files for the following year(s) and the next five-year Plan update.
  7. Repeat!

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local regional planning commission to ask about implementing your municipal Hazard Mitigation Plan. After all, they likely assisted your community with its development. Contact information for all RPCs can be found at https://www.nharpc.org. Currently, eligible communities are beginning to update their Plans through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) 2020 grant.

Stephanie Alexander is Senior Planner with the Central NH Regional Planning Commission (CNHRPC).  She can be reached by phone at 603.226.6020 or via email at salexander@cnhrpc.org.