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Planners hope for best, prepare for worst

SEUALG's Amy Peters coordinated the pre-disaster planning.

By By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

The book is 194 pages of disaster, a compendium of all the natural shocks that could conceivably hit Southeastern Utah. It is the 2011 edition of the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan compiled by the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments.

Public safety and elected officials in the cities and counties of the region have spent months listing the potential natural disasters that could occur and assigning responses for each. Amy Peters, who orchestrated the effort, says it could be a real life and money saver in the event that any of these bad news events happens. She's the SEUALG's coordinator and planner for rural human services whose task it was to bring together people who have schedules of their own and get them to work out a range of worst-case scenarios.

These are not terrorism or nuclear attacks, but the natural hazards that local governments have to address. The natural catastrophes range from sudden things such as dam breaks and landslides to long, drawn-out plagues like insect and weed infestations and drought.

"It's driven by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency)," Peters explained. Back in 2000, Congress passed the Stafford Act to give the agency its marching orders. The need arose when it became apparent that people who were wiped out by floods in the East went back and rebuilt in the same places without any mitigation.

So now FEMA requires comprehensive mitigation strategies from state and local governments, first to limit whatever damage may occur, and second to qualify for federal aid in the event there is some catastrophe.

The pre-disaster plan is intended to help local emergency planners, not to replace them, Peters said. "It's purpose is to identify the disaster, then mesh with the local emergency operation plans," she explained. It is up to each county or city to come up with specifics, based on the knowledge of what assets are available across the region.

As for Carbon County, the bad things that could happen include:

Dam breaks. Scofield heads the list in terms of potential - if not probable - disaster, with smaller reservoirs such as Grassy Trail also considered;

Floods. These differ from dam breaks in that they could be caused by heavy rain or runoff such as those that hit the county this summer;

Drought. Not a big surprise lack of water is on the list, considering that this is one of the most arid counties in the nation's second most arid state. "But there has to be a plan for containment and back-up water," Peters said;

Infestations of weeds and bugs. Plant and insect pests can be economically disastrous for agriculture.

Forest and brush fires;

Problem soils and landslides;

Some hazardous materials events. A natural disaster could be compounded by spill or some other disruption in the flow of dangerous material.

The 2011 is not available online yet, but people who are interested can get a glimpse of the previous plan by visiting the 2003 plan at http://seualg.utah.gov/planning/PDM_Plan.htm




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