Project cushions disaster's blows

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2000

It is impossible to prevent disasters such as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, but planning can minimize the losses when they strike.

Planning and preparation are the goals of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Project Impact program, funded with a $300,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"In the Project Impact program, the risks are identified by the communities themselves," FEMA director James Lee Witt said during a July visit to Kenai.

"The program is run by the communities. We give them seed money and help them develop the public-private partnership."

In the Project Impact program, the risks are identified by

the communities themselves. The program is run by the

communities. We give them seed money and help them

develop the public-private partnership.P>

-- James Lee Witt, director of the

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Close to 60 partners have joined the project since the borough accepted the grant last May, said Kathy Scott, the borough's Project Impact coordinator. Those include cities, fire and police departments, state and federal agencies, the Alaska Railroad, major industrial operators such as Phillips Petroleum Co., Unocal Alaska Resources, Alaska Nitrogen Products LLC, Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Co., and businesses such as the Kenai Chrysler Center and Freedom Realty.

The borough must match the grant with $100,000 cash or in-kind services. Scott said agencies and businesses have already contributed nearly $40,000 in services and cash.

The borough's budget proposal included $80,000 to retrofit public buildings to withstand earthquakes, $90,000 to buy up flood-prone lots, $25,000 to teach disaster preparedness, $25,000 to teach homeowners how to prepare against wildfires and $50,000 to finish the borough's hazard mitigation plan. It included $60,000 to fund Scott's position for 15 months.

The first project funded was the FireWise Community Action Program, developed by the state Division of Forestry and the Alaska Wildfire Coordination Group to teach people to clear around homes to make them easier to protect from wildfires. (See related story, page 20.)

The borough spent $25,000 in grant money to print and distribute 11,500 information packets and training kits.

John LeClair, Kenai area fire management officer for the Division of Forestry, said he has trained peninsula fire chiefs as FireWise instructors, and they have trained people in their communities. All told, 60 or 70 people have been trained to teach FireWise workshops, he said.

The borough's Project Impact also contributed $600 to a workshop the city of Soldotna organized to teach builders, designers and homeowners safe installation of natural gas-burning appliances and construction techniques to make buildings resistant to floods, earthquakes, high winds and heavy snows.

In addition, as part of Project Impact, 10 cadets from the Alaska Military Youth Academy are scheduled to secure water heaters against earthquakes in the homes of senior citizens and shut-ins. Cadets also will check smoke detectors in the homes they visit and install detectors in homes that have none. That is expected to cost less than $2,500, Scott said.

The borough's Project Impact proposal is designed to meet local needs. On Sept. 14, the borough held a community workshop in Kenai to consider local hazards. Participants broke into four groups to discuss wildfires, floods, general mitigation measures and Ring of Fire hazards -- earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.

The wildfire group proposed spending an additional $5,000 for a wildfire mitigation awareness campaign next spring.

The general mitigation group proposed spending $40,000 for multi-disaster planning and $65,000 for a public outreach program. Scott said she expects to solicit proposals for a $10,000 project to make personal preparedness a part of people's day-to-day lives. People pay attention for about three days after disasters such as earthquakes and storms make the news, she said.

"Then, they are ripe for instruction. It's called a teachable moment," she said. "What this group wants to address is, 'what kind of gripping message can they put together about preparing that will get people's attention in their usual lives, beyond that teachable moment?'"

Other possible proposals include trying to assemble a low-interest loan program to help elevate buildings in flood zones.

The Ring of Fire group is planning to recruit volunteers to assess the earthquake resistance of key public buildings, such as fire departments and schools that serve as shelters.

Organizers would determine what improvements are needed and how to pay for them. The Project Impact grant might fund a demonstration project to upgrade one building, Scott said.

The borough already subscribes to the Community Alert Network, which can telephone close to 6,000 borough residents per hour to advise of flood danger, tsunamis or other approaching hazards. Scott said the Ring of Fire group is recommending a survey of the latest technology to see if the borough should consider other options for delivering warnings.

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