County updates hazard mitigation strategy

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By Tris DeRoma


 Los Alamos County is halfway done with its update of its original Hazard Mitigation Plan, a plan originally created in 2006 in response to the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. The county is updating the plan to keep it eligible for federal mitigation funds but to asses the recent changes in Los Alamos since 2006. 

According to Phil Taylor, emergency management coordinator for the county, no plan is invulnerable, but another point to making a plan is to reduce future losses to life and property.

“You can’t absolutely guarantee we’re never going to have a fire here, we’re never going to have an earthquake here, but what we can do is mitigate the impact of those events,” Taylor said. “ We can practice defensible space, we can have a good evacuation plan, we can have a robust way of notifying the community when bad things happen and give them good solid direction and information on what to do.” 

While the update won’t have any radical changes to it, it will address the major construction projects that have happened in the last nine years. It will also shift goals and reprioritize projects that have changed since 2006. 

“There’s been a lot of changes in Los Alamos County since 2006, we have a lot new infrastructure,” Taylor said. “Therefore, we’re going to have new vulnerabilities. It makes sense to assess new additions and tweak your mitigation strategy.”

Of course, the overall goal of the report will be the same: how to lessen or even prevent the impact of wildfire, floods and severe weather events on the residents of Los Alamos County. The plan is very comprehensive, and even includes procedures dealing with dam failure and earthquakes. 

While the county’s Emergency Management Office is taking the lead on the project, the update involves other local, state and regional agencies as well, including the Los Alamos Fire Department.

“We’ve been doing research, identifying hazards, resource capabilities, shortages and any other factors we feel are of importance,” LAFD Chief Troy Hughes said. “Once we’re done, we hope to have a better product that will help in providing for a safer community.” Other agencies involved include the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Public Works, the Los Alamos Police, Utilities, Bandelier National Monument, State Emergency Services and others. 

LANL Emergency Management said in a statement, “the laboratory has a successful history of working closely with Los Alamos County to prepare for a wide variety of natural events that could impact both people and property in the county and at the laboratory.  The most prominent of these scenarios, and the ones we have the most experience with, involve the response to wildland fire. Because the county and the laboratory are so closely tied, particularly where the two share borders, it is very important that the lab and the county are fully coordinated on response protocols for all the credible ‘natural disasters’ we can think of.”

When the update is complete, a draft report will be released for public opinion before undergoing a final rewrite.  According to Taylor, the draft should be ready for public review toward the end of 2014 before it’s subject to federal review. Representatives of the agencies working on the update have been meeting on a quarterly basis since the beginning of the year. The last meeting was in March.