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July 15, 2014

Somerset County begins work on new hazard mitigation plan

SOMERSET — A little more than a year from now, Somerset County officials expect to have a revamped hazard mitigation plan in place.

On Tuesday, commissioners John Vatavuk, Joe Betta and Pamela Tokar-Ickes gave unanimous approval to hire MCM Consulting Group Inc. from McMurray, Washington County, to help with the months of work.

The most recent hazard plan was enacted in 2010. The county’s plan must be updated every five years and submitted to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency for review and approval.

“The plan is five years old, so they have to go in and look at the hazards and see if anything majorly different has happened from what they had five years ago,” said Richard Lohr, the county’s emergency management director.

Floods, flash floods, ice jams, wind storms, winter storms, wildfires, environmental hazards, terrorism, war and criminal activity were listed as the county’s highest risks in the 2010 mitigation plan.

“Not a lot has changed in the last five years, relative to these hazards,” said Brad Zearfoss, executive director of the county’s planning commission.

The current plan recommends promoting disaster-resistant development, improving response capabilities, protecting critical infrastructure and enhancing other preventative measures.

“It’s things that we can do to be prepared for these things,” Zearfoss said. “Obviously, we can’t prevent these things from happening.”

More than three-quarters of Somerset’s municipalities use the county mitigation plan instead of going through the time and expense of creating their own.

“It’s a good thing to have,” Lohr said. “It’s for the county’s benefit as well as the municipalities need it, too.”

Developing the new plan will cost $51,000, Zearfoss said.

Nearly all of the expense will be covered by grant money. The county will contribute a little less than $1,000.

Zearfoss said the updated plan should be completed by the end of August 2015.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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