FEMA Awards $391,481 to TAMIU for Hazard Planning Grant

FEMA Provides $391,481 Grant
to TAMIU Joint Effort for Hazard Planning

Texas A&M International University has received a planning grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for a joint effort with Texas A&M University and the Rio Grande Institute for a "Cover the Texas-Mexico Border" Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative.

The three-year grant, beginning in January 2006, provides  $391,481 to develop a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional regional hazard mitigation plan for jurisdictions in 10 counties in the Rio Grande border region. Counties participating are Starr, Jim Hogg, Webb, Duval, Brooks, McMullen, Terrell, Pecos, Reeves and Kenedy, with a combined population of 305,212. 

Hazard mitigation planning is a unique challenge for these counties. The vast majority of communities in the region are small and without a budget for the kind of planning required to meet the increasingly stringent federal disaster prevention standards. The area's population is growing at a rapid rate and expected to increase by about 26 percent between 2000 and 2010.

To develop this regional hazard mitigation plan, TAMIU has assembled an experienced team headed by project director  Dr. Kenneth Tobin, TAMIU assistant professor of geology and GIS and director of its Center for Earth and Environmental Studies.  Partners in the effort are Laurel Lacy and colleagues from H2O Partners, Inc. in Austin, TX  and Tyrus Fain and Len Materman from the Rio Grande Institute. The latter have extensive experience working with the jurisdictions along the Texas-Mexico border. H2O Partners has completed hazard mitigation plans for over 100 counties in Texas. Materman and Lacy both occupied senior positions at FEMA headquarters during the 1990s.

Tyrus Fain, president of the Rio Grande Institute, said the Rio Grande region is at a growing risk of disaster.

"This Rio Grande region is at high and growing risk of disaster-- both natural and man-made--and from events on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.  Together, the counties received a total of eight Presidential Disaster Declarations from 1989 to 2003," Fain said.

"Cover the Texas-Mexico Border" is intended as a disaster prevention blueprint for the future for participating jurisdictions and targets actions that can be taken to make the 10-county region more disaster-resistant by reducing or eliminating the risks of loss of life and property damage from disasters. When confronted by natural or man-caused disasters, communities that have well-developed mitigation programs will sustain fewer losses and recover more quickly.

Fain said the timing of the Grant couldn't be more appropriate.

"The problem of protecting lives and property along the Rio Grande has become ever more critical as weather patterns change, population grows rapidly, once sparsely populated areas witness a rapid expansion of homes and businesses into the floodplain, and as new man-made threats such as terrorism emerge," he explained.

Fain  noted that the region's proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border poses special challenges with reference to hazards, communications and unforeseen situations, recalling at least one instance when thousands of people had to be evacuated from low-lying Mexican communities into the US during the floods following Hurricane Beulah.

Dr. Tobin said the TAMIU-led team is committed to a planning process to minimize disruption to communities following a disaster; streamline disaster recovery by defining actions to be taken before a disaster strikes to  reduce or eliminate future  damage;  serve as a basis for future funding that may become available through grant and technical assistance programs offered by state or Federal governments and ensure that participating cities and counties maintain their eligibility for the full range of future Federal disaster relief.  After last November 1, 2004, certain forms of Federal mitigation assistance for projects will be available only to cities and counties that have a FEMA-approved Hazard Mitigation Plan in place. 

Tobin is hopeful that the group's multi-jurisdictional plan will lay the groundwork for future funding that may become available from state or federal grants and technical assistance programs.  This plan will enable the participating jurisdictions to take advantage of mitigation grant opportunities as soon as they arise.  

Tobin said the grant would be used to undertake a comprehensive, all-hazards multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation planning effort for all but three  counties not already covered by a FEMA-approved mitigation planning effort. The resulting plan will comply with the hazard mitigation planning standards and criteria of the State of Texas and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Fain and Tobin reiterated the importance of the mitigation planning effort. 

"Planning serves as the vital foundation for saving lives and protecting property from all hazards. Improved planning will result in a better understanding of risks and vulnerabilities and foster actions to strengthen communities so that they become less susceptible to future disasters," Fain said.

"Put simply, we want to help this vulnerable population be better prepared," Tobin said.

 For additional information contact Dr. Tobin at 956.326.2417 or e-mail ktobin@tamiu.edu, or Fain at the Rio Grande Institute at 512.632. 0644. 

Additional information is also available on the TAMIU Web site, the RGI Web site at riogrande.org  or from H2O Partners, Inc. site at h2opartnersusa.com

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu