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WV focuses on mitigation

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is teaching West Virginians simple ways they can lessen future flood damage.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 7, 2003

"Waters may be receded but moisture content can be hazardous to contractors and homeowners."

—Noah Thacker

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is teaching West Virginians simple ways they can lessen future flood damage.

Serious storms in the state have resulted in federally declared disasters every year for the last three years. "These folks are inevitably going to be flooded again," said Liz Monahan-Gibson, FEMA's voluntary agency liaison for the region.

With that in mind, experts in FEMA's mitigation and individual assistance divisions sat down together to ask themselves how people can reduce water damage the next time around. In the disaster recovery world, that's called mitigation.

It marks a new era of collaboration for the FEMA divisions, explained Monahan-Gibson. The fruit of their efforts is a 35-page booklet, entitled "Reducing Your Flood Repair Costs." It offers tips on how homeowners, volunteers and construction contractors can mitigate when they repair, reinstall or rebuild.

The booklet will makes its debut with the faith-based disaster response community when the United Methodist Committee on Relief offers training for volunteer caseworkers in West Virginia in September. A FEMA mitigation educator will be on hand to offer a seminar based on the booklet, which caseworkers will take home.

The booklet will also be distributed to volunteer work crews and to construction contractors.

It's designed to appeal to all these groups, because many of the tips are very low-cost, said Noah Thacker, who helped put together the booklet.

Thacker, who works in FEMA's mitigation division, is a community education and outreach specialist.

Among other issues, "Reducing Your Flood Repair Costs" covers the hazards of post-flood mold, mildew and bacteria. "Waters may be receded but moisture content can be hazardous to contractors and homeowners," said Thacker.

The booklet offers tips about how to ensure walls are thoroughly dry before painting them.

The cost of reducing future damage might even pay itself off the very next time floodwaters rise, Thacker explained. "Think about the cost of replacing your water heater every time it floods, versus spending some money to raise it once. The same goes for elevating your furnace and your other appliances."

Volunteer groups helping homeowners repair flood-damaged furnaces will save money in the long run by spending a little extra to raise the furnaces as they replace them, added Monahan-Gibson.

The booklet also offers tips for flood-proofing items outside the home. "It talks about anchoring outside fuel tanks," said Thacker, "and installing sump pumps and backflow valves."

"Reducing Your Flood Repair Costs" also brings up landslides, a hazard that has plagued West Virginians for years. "If you're going to build, look at your land how it's contoured and the content of the soil," said Thacker.

Many mitigation practices are just good common sense. And many that are outlined in the booklet aren't necessarily specified in construction codes or regulations. "There is no law that says these things have to be done," said Thacker.

But it's highly cost-effective to repair flood damage in a way that makes the same damage less likely to recur, said Monahan-Gibson. "It's all about, when you repair something -- do it right," she said. "Let's spend a little bit more on each case and a lot less in the long run."

The new booklet and training are "just the beginning the education process," she added, "and I hope it will be a model for other states."

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