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COURT HOUSE - The Cape May County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) held a virtual public meeting Jan. 11 to introduce its updates to the county's Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP).

The plan was last updated in 2016. Eligibility for FEMA pre-disaster funding requires an update every five years.

The plan is in two large volumes, with several appendices added to the already-extensive detail in the document. While this is a county-level plan, it also serves as a repository of municipal-level planning, with a chapter in volume two for the county's 16 municipalities. 

At the municipal level, participation in the plan is important, not just for disaster preparedness, but also for earning points in the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS), which determines a discounted amount on flood insurance premiums homeowners can receive.

The HMP focuses on mitigating disasters, relating to what steps the county and its municipalities can take to lessen the impact of natural disasters.

Martin Pagliughi, the county's OEM coordinator, began the meeting by pointing out that the plan's update had to account for new hazards not included in plans before the pandemic began. He said the draft presented to the public was the result of about eight months of work.

Tetra Tech, a consulting firm employed by the county, did the public presentation, which was recorded. The video is available online.

In the updated plan, climate change and sea level rise, disease outbreak, floods, hurricanes and tropical storms, nor’easters and severe thunderstormsare deemed high ranking hazards. Medium rankings are listed for coastal erosion, droughts, tsunami threats and wildfires. The rankings take into account the likelihood of the events and the county’s vulnerability. 

Disease outbreak was a new addition to the hazard list in the 2021 draft plan due to the pandemic.

The HMP provides a profile of the various hazards and has municipal-level assessments, where applicable, in the listing of municipal specific information in Volume II. A risk assessment is part of the hazard discussion.

One of the last sections of Volume I consists of strategies for mitigation loss to the plan, along with a cost-benefit review. Strategies include, among many others, plans for property elevation, drainage and stormwater improvements, generator availability, local regulations and education, and awareness efforts.

Although many property owners think of the HMP in terms of the CRS value and potential impact on flood insurance rates, the presentation emphasized the fact that hazard mitigation is “not just about flooding.” The pandemic’s impact on public health and the county's economic welfare this year stood as stark evidence that weather and flooding are not the only dangers. 

Following the presentation, the next steps for the draft plan include transmittal to the New Jersey OEM and FEMA by the end of February. After approval by both federal and state officials, the document will return for full plan adoption in the county, in an April or May timeframe.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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