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Planning for disaster now is vital for businesses, everyone

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(Editor’s note: This is another in a periodic series written by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission that addresses development, transportation, infrastructure and other issues affecting Lehigh and Northampton counties.)

If another Superstorm Sandy blew through the Lehigh Valley tomorrow, knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses and essentially shutting down entire communities the way it did in 2012, could your business weather the punch?

Could your bottom line withstand a week without power – and customers?

And even if it could, do you want to take that chance?

Your best defense is to prepare for that scenario now.

That reasoning is the foundation of hazard mitigation, and how we prepare now will affect every business owner and resident in the Lehigh Valley.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is partnering with Lehigh and Northampton counties to draft an update to the 2013 Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is designed to reduce the impact on lives and property when disaster strikes.

And it’s not just about planning for the next hurricane, but any potential disaster from droughts to building collapses to cyberattacks.

The commission is working with all 62 municipalities in the region to determine their risk against 25 potential hazards that have been identified.

Some, such as flooding, wind storms, winter storms and sinkholes, occur relatively frequently, while a few such as earthquakes, nuclear incidents and dam failure are far less likely.

RISK AND ACTIONS

The purpose of the plan is to determine the risks in each municipality and devise a menu of actions each can take to help blunt the impact of the next disaster on their community.

Actions might include municipal ordinances that prevent developers from building in the flood plain or a public education program that can prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Every community should include the purchase of emergency generators in its plan so it can keep municipal operations and emergency responders going in the event of a lengthy power outage.

NEW HAZARDS

The commission has spent the past six months engaging people in the community to determine their experiences and thoughts, and that will continue during public meetings April 25 at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton and July 10 at the Ironworks Municipal Building in Catasauqua.

Based on input so far, three new hazards were added to the 22 identified in the 2013 plan:

<Invasive species that include the spotted lanternfly, gypsy moth and emerald ash borer.

<Infectious diseases that include influenza and the Zika virus.

<Drug overdose deaths from such drugs as heroin and fentanyl.

Also being written into the plan are population evacuations caused by hazards elsewhere, such as the thousands of residents who fled to the Lehigh Valley last year from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

HAVING A PLAN IN PLACE

Any business owner knows how important it is to have a plan in place to minimize disruption during hazards.

Some businesses were without electricity for more than a week after Sandy. For some, a plan that included auxiliary power could have made all the difference.

And every business, and municipal operation for that matter, should have a blueprint for how they’d keep operations going if a significant portion of their workforce can’t make it to work for an extended period.

This plan is designed to save lives, prevent property damage and minimize the need for recovery after disaster hits. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation projects, $16 is saved in avoided disaster damage.

FUNDING AT STAKE

Money also factors into the equation in other ways.

The past 12 years, FEMA has delivered more than $3 million to the Lehigh Valley for hazard mitigation projects.

But it could have been a lot more because to be eligible for FEMA funding, a municipality has to have a plan, and it has to have clearly defined actions in that plan.

Recently, FEMA had money for generators yet one Valley community’s request was denied entirely because it didn’t adopt the regional hazard mitigation plan when it was last updated in 2013.

IDEAS WELCOME

If you’re a business owner, municipal official or resident with ideas of what belongs in this plan, tell your municipal leaders. Or contact the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

How the region withstands the next disaster could depend on it.

Geoffrey A. Reese is director of environmental planning for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and project manager for the 2018 Lehigh Valley Hazard Mitigation Plan. He can be reached at greese@lvpc.org.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@lvb.com

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