Hill County, along with its partners in a funding grant, Blaine and Phillips counties, is close to completing its update on a plan describing the best way to minimize damage in case of a disaster.
Local officials and residents listened to an hour-long presentation of a preliminary draft of the updated pre-disaster mitigation plan for the county, a federally required document that, along with helping the county prepare for disasters, allows it to apply for federal funds to help pay for those preparations.
Daphne Digrindakis of Tetra Tech Inc. in Helena, project manager for the updates, outlined the results of her work so far in updating the Hill County plan, originally written in 2006.
“We hope to wrap everything up by, oh, I’d say early fall, late summer, early fall, ” she said.
The three counties successfully applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which requires the plan be updated every five years — to help pay for the update.
Digrindakis said keeping the plan updated as required can bring large amounts of money to the state, and to the jurisdictions that have plans in place.
The plan would list projects that could be done in advance of disasters to reduce property damage — and injuries and deaths — in case of something like a major flood, she said.
“It’s something that’s put in place in advance of a disaster to lessen the effects …, ” she said. “And so, by doing this planning in advance, it really saves money, it saves people’s lives, too. It’s really important.
“And having a focused plan really helps jurisdictions get these things accomplished ahead of the disaster, ” she added.
Digrindakis said the main kickoff for the project was with public meetings held in January, although the preparation started a month earlier. Conference calls have been used every two to four weeks with the different counties while the work progressed.
She said that she expects the final draft to be ready in about two weeks, following another set of conference calls Monday. The draft will be distributed and put out for comment for 30 days, including on the project website at http://blaine-hill-phillips-pdm.com. A page on that site lists the work for each county individually.
Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Joe Parenteau said this morning that everyone in the county can — and is asked to — look at the plan and make comments. That has been the goal from the start, he said.
“We want to make sure everyone’s aware of it and has input into it, so it’s not just something written in an office, ” he said.
He asked that people who do review the plan and make comments record the time they spend and turn it in to him — it will count toward the county’s required match for the grant, more than $5,300 for each county.
Once that comment period is complete and any necessary changes made, the draft will be turned over to the state.
After the state reviews the plan for 30 days, any more changes necessary will be made, then it will be sent to FEMA for a 60-day review to ensure it meets that agency’s requirements.
After FEMA approves it, any more changes necessary will be made, then turned over to the different jurisdictions for approval.
In Hill County, that is the county government, the City of Havre and the incorporated town of Hingham.
Blaine County, Chinook, Harlem, Phillips County, Malta, Dodson and Saco are the other jurisdictions working on updating their plans.
The updated plan will include proposed projects, ranging from outreach and education to projects to repair or upgrade infrastructure like bridges and culverts or strengthening and preparing buildings, to asking other businesses and agencies to take actions, Digrindakis said.
Many of the proposed actions are worded that the county will encourage action, rather than ensure action, because many of the proposals are for actions the county wouldn’t provide itself.
“So, we had to watch out how we phrased things, ” she said.
The proposals include efforts like education and outreach to make people better prepared to deal with disasters, providing or helping and encouraging entities to upgrade or obtain equipment to better deal with disasters, using zoning or regulations in new subdivisions to prevent new construction in areas of high risk, and asking agencies or businesses to take action to reduce damage in future disasters.
That ranges from asking the federal Bureau of Land Management to implement mitigation strategies on its land next to or in high-risk areas, trying to get more cellphone towers installed to improve service and asking people to register for reverse 911 so they and their location can be found if they use their phones to call 911. Another example is encouraging power companies to install equipment that will keep ice and snow from building up on power lines and reducing the chance the line would break or be damaged.
Another is encouraging Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to keep water trucks nearby during any activity that could ignite a wildfire.
“Maybe that one fire (on March 13) wouldn't have gotten out of control if they had a water truck right there, ” Digrindakis said.
She said the website has the materials from meetings held, including the PowerPoint presentations she made in Phillips County Tuesday and Blaine and Hill counties Wednesday, as well as more background, links and contact information on the project.
Once she completes the drafts, they will be on the site, with each draft broken into subsections so people can go to, for example, a specific hazard identified in the county to review that section without having to go through the entire document.
People can leave comments on the website, and she encouraged people to do so.