North Carolina’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program – Building Resilient Communities

Tuesday, October 19, 2021 - 11:43am

This has been a busy year for the N.C. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), a FEMA program managed by N.C. Emergency Management (NCEM). Alongside FEMA, these state employees work with communities to identify hazards associated with natural disasters and to develop long-term strategies to mitigate these vulnerabilities during events such as hurricanes.

On Oct. 7, 2021, staff with the state HMGP traveled to Haywood County to explain the options available to those residents who experienced impacts after remnants of Tropical Storm Fred flooded their community. FEMA granted a major disaster declaration for 11 western North Carolina counties due to the damage caused by Fred, three of those counties also received Individual assistance. Public Assistance provides technical help and funding for reimbursements to state and local governments, as well as certain private non-profit groups, to help fix or replace damaged public properties such as roads, bridges, buildings and parks that have been damaged or destroyed. Individual Assistance aids homeowners whose primary residences were damaged or destroyed by a natural or manmade disaster.

Due to North Carolina’s Enhanced Hazard Mitigation status the state qualifies for 20 percent of the total federal recovery assistance funds paid out through the public and individual assistance programs to prevent future damage by funding projects that minimize the impact of future storms.

“After federally declared disasters, FEMA provides funding for hazard mitigation projects, which is used to reduce the number of identified hazards to make communities safer,” said Steve McGugan, State Hazard Mitigation Officer.

McGugan explains that getting HMGP funding can seem like a long process, and even after the funding is obligated, there is still work to do. Whether it’s elevating homes, converting open space back to a natural flood plain, installing generators, or whatever the project may be, contractors must be hired to complete the work. However, in the end the people in the communities that apply for and receive funding, the county and the state all benefit. A study by the National Institute of Building Sciences backs up this claim, finding that for every dollar spent on federal mitigation, taxpayers save $6.

When it’s possible, homes in special flood hazard areas may be elevated and placed on a range of possible foundations, including piles, columns, curtain walls with footings or concrete masonry units. The determination to safely elevate a structure and what foundation can be used is specified by a licensed professional engineer during a feasibility study.

An example of elevation projects includes Craven County, which is receiving more than $1.5 million to help elevate 11 residential structures two feet above the level required by local ordinances, as the structures are susceptible to flooding from the Trent and Neuse rivers, which occurred following Hurricane Florence. More than $1 million in Florence funding is also going to improve disaster resilience in Currituck County where seven flood-prone homes will be elevated; Dare County will receive $4.2 million to elevate 31 flood-prone homes.

"Not all homes in special flood hazard areas can safely be elevated and instead are removed and the property is converted to open space to act as a natural floodplain,” McGugan said. “Purchase of the properties also helps the homeowners to relocate to an area where they won’t face an ongoing flood risk.”

Hurricane Florence funding is being used to convert properties to open space and conserve the natural floodplain. More than $1.6 million is going to demolish and remove 19 residential structures flooded after Florence in the community of Washington in Beaufort County.  Another $7.2 million is going to the city of Lumberton in Robeson County to purchase and demolition 50 homes and help improve that city’s disaster resilience. Robeson County is using $1.6 million to remove an additional 10 residential structures, and Pender County is receiving $6.5 million to acquire 31 repetitively damaged properties. More than $976,000 in funding from Tropical Storm Michael is going to Harnett and Pender counties to convert five residential structures flooded after that 2018 storm.

"In addition to building resilience in communities by elevating structures and converting land back to natural flood plains, HMGP funding also helps whole communities by assisting them with needed preparedness infrastructure such as generators,” McGugan said.

Using HMGP funding, the state and FEMA were able to provide Craven County with $1.7 million to reimburse them for the cost of installing five permanent backup generators that provide emergency electricity at critical facilities. In Duplin County, a $1.3 million hazard mitigation project grant is being used to improve disaster resilience by purchasing emergency generators to sustain government and emergency response operations at critical facilities when the power has been knocked out. These emergency generators will allow the county to store medication and provide residents shelter, drinking water, and fuel in the event of weather outage.

Whether it’s elevations, acquisitions or other needs to prevent repeated damage, the N.C. Hazard Mitigation team continues to reach out to communities to aid them in being prepared should another flooding event happen in their community.