Whether one lives in the Valley cities of Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln, the Gold Country around Auburn, or in the High Sierra, history shows that residents in Placer County will be impacted directly or indirectly by wildfires, severe storms, floods, droughts and other natural disasters. In fact, according to the draft “Local Hazard Mitigation Plan,” the county Office of Emergency Services (OES) estimates that Placer County has a 46.6% chance of receiving a government disaster declaration in any given year. Between 1950 and 2008, Placer County received 27 state disaster declarations, 16 of which also received federal disaster declarations. These disasters mainly related to wildfires and floods. That works out to be a major event worthy of a disaster declaration every 2.2 years. These natural disasters resulted in almost 200 deaths, numerous injuries to residents and billions of dollars in property damage.
What can be done? With good planning and aggressive implementation, Placer County can achieve a big payoff in saving lives and property. According to the National Institute of Building Science Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council, each dollar spent on hazard mitigation saves society an average of $4 in avoided future losses, in addition to saving lives and preventing injuries.
It is critical for elected officials in Placer County, government workers and residents to work together to identify projects, programs and funding sources to help reduce the loss of life, injury and damage to property that occurs when natural disasters strike. Currently, Placer County and 15 other jurisdictions, including cities, fire and school districts, the flood control district and water agencies, are updating the county’s 2005 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The comprehensive 750-page plan identifies a wide variety of risks (from avalanche to wildfires) and recommends 110 mitigation actions that can help make residents less vulnerable to future hazard events. And, as specified in federal law, adoption of the plan by each of the jurisdictions also makes them eligible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s grant program to further support mitigation efforts to prevent the unnecessary loss of life and assets.
The government and public safety officials who drafted the update to the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan are inviting residents to provide their input. This is a great opportunity for residents to help improve the plan while learning more about how to protect themselves. This plan is available at the county and city libraries and on the county’s website. Residents have the opportunity to email their comments. A resident doesn’t have to read the entire plan to give input. The report is broken down in various sections that can stand alone in identifying risks and mitigation recommendations. For instance, I’m carefully reviewing the section dealing with the City of Auburn and our detailed plans to reduce fire and flood dangers.
The most important thing is progress. The draft plan is rightly notes, “Once adopted, the plan faces the truest test of its worth: implementation . . . The successful implementation of this mitigation strategy will require constant and vigilant review of existing plans and programs for coordination and multi-objective opportunities that promote a safe, sustainable community.” I’ve submitted a recommendation that every local jurisdiction hold an annual public hearing in January to discuss what efforts can be made to lessen the danger facing their residents.
The old Boy Scout adage – “Be Prepared” – certainly applies to every elected official and government worker in Placer County. The first duty of government is to enhance public safety. Residents, with their good ideas, can also help build a safer community. Crafting a strong Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and implementing the mitigation actions can save lives and property in our communities.