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Disaster response: protecting that Old Kentucky home.

Kentucky's recent experiences with natural disasters have been as turbulent as the weather that spawned the storms. From 1985 through 1997, the state was wracked by nine major disasters that required $190 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In March 1997 alone, rampaging rivers and creeks killed 21 people and destroyed or damaged more than 17,000 homes.

The state's response to its multiple misfortunes has been complicated by conflicts between state and federal emergency management agencies, lack of local control over disaster management decisions, the absence of building codes and early land misuse in eastern Kentucky by mining and forestry interests.

The University of Kentucky's Martin School of Public Policy and Administration and the state hazard mitigation office are working to build a grassroots effort to streamline the state's disaster response system. They expect the resulting program to educate legislators and community leaders, along with private citizens, about the need for mitigation planning, as well as to provide training and support to develop these plans.

An indicator of the need for some form of planning assistance is the fact that - with only 17,406 flood protection insurance policies in the state and thousands more homes and businesses potentially endangered - Kentucky's ratio of policies to properties at risk is well below the national average.

A cornerstone of the program is its reliance on a local perspective - as opposed to the more traditional "top down" approach of a central authority that tells localities what to do - to meet the state's goal of developing a mitigation plan for each of Kentucky's 120 counties.

An important message of hearings to date has been that local residents must see for themselves that mitigation efforts can have a positive financial effect on their communities. Participants in the discussions stressed the need for community education, as well as the development of instructional tools for elementary and middle schools to reinforce the message of disaster management and hazard mitigation.

The resulting public service video focuses on Kentucky's vulnerability to natural disasters and offers suggestions for communities to use to reduce the risk of disasters and lessen their effect. All Kentucky Is At Risk is available to public access television stations, libraries, civic groups and county officials. The Martin school also is developing a hazard mitigation workbook based on a model plan for the state.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Date:May 1, 1999
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