Following a major disaster, the long process of recovery and rebuilding begins. A natural human response is to question “Why did this happen?” Then, ultimately we begin to ask “How can we prevent this from happening again?” In Emergency Management, this is called mitigation - actions that we can take before a disaster or when we rebuild after a disaster - that will reduce our risk of property damage or loss of life in the future.

In 2000, the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) contracted with the cities and counties to prepare a county-wide Local Mitigation Strategy or LMS. Through the local emergency management agency, a committee was established, composed of representatives from throughout the county charged with creating the LMS which would ultimately be adopted by every community in the county.

Assessing Our Risk

    Assessing risk

The LMS is composed of four major sections. The first is the Vulnerability Assessment which identifies the hazards that each community could face and the probability of that hazard. Hurricanes and tropical storms pose the greatest risk to potential loss of life, devastating property damage and economic and environmental impacts. However, in terms of greater probability, in the Tampa Bay Region, the number one hazard is flooding which causes more damage than all other hazards combined. Second, is the risk of a hazardous material incident. Although major chemical emergencies are extremely rare, there always remains a chance that one will occur despite the precautions that have been taken by the chemical users/ producers/ carriers and emergency responders. Placing third are severe winds from tropical storms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Wildfires, lightning, droughts, freezes, and sink holes are also on the list.

The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated tragically that we are not immune to violence and terrorism. While these types of “man-made” disasters were addressed in the LMS and the emergency management community, the threat has increased and initiated changes in security and policy. This is particularly true with regard to the airports, sea ports, military bases and utilities in the Tampa Bay Region.

Strategies to Reduce our Risk

    Inspecting building codes.

The second step is to identify ways to minimize our risk and potential loss from these hazards. Guiding Principals — those policies, regulations and procedures used by local officials to make decisions related to safety — were earmarked and evaluated to determine their true effectiveness and where, if appropriate, changes were needed. Based on this evaluation, Mitigation Strategies were identified and the movement toward a safer community was made a top priority.

Actions To Take

    Public education

The fourth step in the process was to identify Mitigation Projects as part of the overall County Mitigation Strategy. The Mitigation Projects represent a prioritized list of projects aimed at making our community safer.

Because of the serious public shelter shortfall in the Tampa Bay Region one of the top priorities was “fortifying” or strengthening our schools so they can serve as shelters in a severe weather emergency. “Fortifying” or “hardening” a structure usually means protecting the windows and doors, and reinforcing the roof and walls. The lists of Mitigation Projects also include the hardening of other critical facilities like fire stations, city hall, the courthouse, and community centers. Also on the list are drainage improvements and other flood mitigation projects as well as public education and training.

Recovery & Rebuilding

    Rebuilding a roof.

While the counties have worked with the State of Florida and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund some of these projects over the last two years, the project list also has another purpose. After a major disaster, mitigation funds are made available to affected communities to assist in recovery and redevelopment. These mitigation funds, administered by FEMA, can be directed toward specific projects - that will reduce future risk - if the community has the project identified and “ready to go.” One purpose of the LMS is to give the state and local governments that advantage in the aftermath of a disaster.

Where to Find More Information

The true value of the LMS is that it is a dynamic document which is updated and revised annually as goals are reached or priorities shifted. For more information about preparedness and mitigation, or the LMS, residents can log on to:

For more information about preparedness and mitigation, or the LMS, residents can visit