City News

Meck County residents asked for input on Hazard Mitigation Plan

Residents of Mecklenburg County are being asked for their input on which natural disasters and hazards they believe are the greatest risks for their communities.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management is working with administrators from the city of Charlotte, the county and all six towns to update the local Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The plan is part of a long-term effort to reduce damage and loss from natural disasters such as floods, winter storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and tropical storms, officials said.

By working to prevent the initial disaster loss, the long-term plan also aims to break the cycle of reconstruction and repeat damage.

Residents can provide feedback and learn more at public meetings scheduled for mid-December and February, as well as through an online survey. Officials are looking for what community members perceive to be the biggest threat, in terms of natural disasters, to help improve the response.

The Department of Homeland Security requires that these types of plans be updated every five years to be eligible for federal hazard mitigation assistance, officials said. The local plan was last updated in 2010.

Char-Meck Emergency Management’s Stacie Neal, an emergency management planner, and Christina Hallingse, grants administrator, said the meetings will not only be a chance to hear from residents, but also a time to update them on the plan’s progress.

The first public meeting was held in Charlotte in mid-November and was attended by a few dozen people, officials said. An outside vendor will help incorporate that feedback – as well as responses to the online survey – into a risk assessment that also includes local data from historical disaster events.

The second meeting is scheduled for Dec. 15 and will be held in Huntersville.

The final public meeting will be held in mid-February at Matthews Town Hall, though the date has yet to be determined. Officials will present the final draft of the plan before submitting it for state and federal review.

Once the updated plan has been approved at those levels, it will go before local government for approval and implementation, likely between June and August.

Officials credit social media with helping to spread the word about the public meetings and online survey. “Turnout at public meetings is always a challenge, no matter what time of evening. (Residents) are just getting off work, they’re just getting home and have other after hours activities,” Neal said, adding that turnout this year is already better than during previous updates.

But participation in the online survey alone has already outstripped the response officials received in 2010, when less than 30 residents provided their input, Hallingse said. The survey, which went live earlier this month, has already been taken by more than 150 residents and will likely remain online and available through Christmas.

The survey questions cover a number of areas, including what steps residents and local government can take to reduce or eliminate the risk of future natural hazard damages in neighborhoods; whether residents and their families have prepared a disaster supply kit; what the best method is to educate residents is about hazard mitigation – social media, radio ads, public meetings, etc. – and other opinion-based questions.

Local officials also used a strategy that brought was successful for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when the organization revamped its website several years ago, Neal said. The CDC’s disaster preparedness site was attracting “dismal” traffic when it began using the “Zombie Preparedness” hook.

“The hits were astronomical and took servers down,” Neal said of the traffic that the site began to attract.

In Mecklenburg, officials decided to play on a similar theme by touting “Zombie Apocalypse: If you’re ready for this, then you’re ready for anything,” as a slogan on the organization’s website and material promoting the meetings and survey.

And the strategy seems to be working, as the first person through the door at the first public meeting said the zombie component is what sparked his interest, Neal said.

“We decided to be creative this time and take a chance to see how many people we could capture, and it definitely worked,” she said.

“This is what people perceive as their biggest threat. The more public input we get, the better our response can be.”