Orange County, Fla., along with most of the 12 municipalities within its boundaries, has created a local hazard mitigation strategy. The plan has helped the local governments develop and implement tactics that will decrease their vulnerability to catastrophe.

To develop the strategy, city and county emergency service officials turned to Princeton, N.J.-based Emergency Response Planning and Management. Using funds from the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the local governments worked with the company to define all of the natural, technological and societal hazards that threaten their communities.

The group identified the specific structural and operational vulnerabilities of important facilities and systems in the county. Using that information, they proposed more than 100 project and program ideas for eliminating or minimizing those liabilities.

To decide which projects were most important, officials looked at the number of people affected, the percent of the jurisdiction affected, public safety benefits and the feasibility of implementation for each project. The initiatives were ranked according to importance and entered into a computer database. After an intensive 16-month planning process, the municipalities issued the Orange County Local Mitigation Strategy in August 1999.

The strategy has helped the municipalities systematically improve facilities and educate residents. For example, the Orange County School Board used $3 million from the state to install storm shutters on several schools. A neighborhood education program about wildfire dangers and a program about prescribed burns in high-risk areas also were outgrowths of the local hazard mitigation strategy. The Orange County Department of Planning also issued a handbook last November that will ensure that hazard mitigation considerations are implemented in the county's Comprehensive Plan.

In January, the participating local governments purchased mitigation planning software from the company to manage information processed by the Department of Planning. The governments are preparing the first update of the local mitigation strategy, which will be released by the end of 2001.

“Because of [the original strategy's] success, we are now using our own funds to create a larger and better mitigation strategy for our local governments,” says Rick Comerford, acting director of the Orange County Office of Emergency Management. To update the original strategy, the county and its municipalities are assessing the vulnerability of more facilities and neighborhoods and developing more initiatives.

County and municipal agencies believe that the hazard mitigation planning process will help reduce the risk of future disasters. “Our local mitigation strategy has become a priority document for the county government, and I know that its implementation will help us create a disaster-resistant future for all of our citizens and visitors,” says Richard Crotty, Orange County chairman.