FEMA awards grants to reduce risks from wildfires on communities

Two of three appear to be well deserved

Beaver Creek fire saved structure
Beaver Creek Fire, Colorado, 2016. InciWeb.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recently awarded millions of dollars through their Disaster Mitigation Grant program.

Boulder County, Colorado

Boulder County will receive a $1.2 million Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant for two wildfire mitigation actions. The first is to create defensible space for approximately 500 properties. The second is hazardous fuels reduction in an area of about 160 acres that will provide further protection on 27 properties where defensible space creation was previously completed.

Homeowner efforts to create defensible space will not just be a one-time effort. They will join the county’s wildfire mitigation program, Wildfire Partners, to support continued maintenance of defensible space over the long-term and conduct comprehensive mitigation efforts to effectively reduce wildfire risk in a community that has been severely affected by wildfire.

FEMA is providing 75 percent of the project costs, a total of $1,215,630. Funding is provided through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to assist states, U.S. territories, federally-recognized tribes, and local communities in implementing a sustained pre-disaster natural hazard mitigation program. The goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on federal funding in future disasters.

Ashland, Oregon

The city of Ashland, Oregon will receive a $3 million Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant to create wildfire defensible space around 1,100 homes and to replace 23 wood shake roofs with ignition-resistant roof material.

The City of Ashland in Oregon’s Jackson County is in a high wildfire risk zone. In the fall of 2020, neighboring communities of Talent and Phoenix were devastated by the Almeda Fire, which burned 2,977 acres and destroyed over 2,300 structures.

This mitigation project will help protect structures from wildfires and will help homes in the Ashland area comply with recommended local best practices for wildfire risk reduction. Replacing wood shake roofs and providing defensible space to structures reduces the risk of wildfire spread and diminishes the likelihood of wildfires starting from embers. Once these highly flammable roofs are replaced, these types of roofs will no longer be allowed in Ashland.

The City is contributing a $1 million cost-share, making the total value of this grant $4 million.

The project includes hiring a project manager, preliminary assessments of identified homes, surveys for vegetation removal, scheduling and training of pre-approved contractors, removal of vegetation, and reconstruction of roofs.

Rolling Hills, California

A $1.1 million grant is going to the Los Angeles community of Rolling Hills. The funds will replace overhead power lines and poles with nearly 2,000 feet of underground cables and relocate transformers to an area with less wildfire risk. The Los Angeles Fire Department identified the area as a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, the highest designation with the greatest fire risk.

The $1.5 million project includes a $1.1 million grant from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), with the remaining $381,000 from non-federal sources.


Our take

As we wrote last September, grants to mitigate wildfire risk and improve community resiliency is a worthwhile investment:

Provide grants to homeowners that are in areas with high risk from wildland fires. Pay a portion of the costs of improvements or retrofits to structures and the nearby vegetation to make the property more fire resistant. This could include the cost of removing some of the trees in order to have the crowns at least 18 feet apart if they are within 30 feet of the structures — many homeowners can’t afford the cost of complete tree removal.

But the limited amount of Federal taxpayer funds available must be distributed where they can get the most bang for the buck and assist a significant number of residents.

Rolling Hills is a gated community of private roads on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles where the median household income is $239,375 and the poverty rate is 1.6%. The project will reduce wildfire ignitions along 2,000 feet of power lines.

Boulder County has a median household income of $83,019 and a poverty rate of 10.7%. Their grant will mitigate hazards on 527 properties.

Ashland, Oregan has a median income of $56,315 and a poverty rate of 18.4%. More than 1,100 homes will be affected by the project.

Putting 2,000 feet of power lines underground in Rolling Hills could reduce the chance of poorly designed or maintained electrical lines starting fires. But a case could be made that the project should not rank high enough nationwide to prevent other grants from being approved that would have a much greater beneficial effect on larger numbers of people with far less disposable income. In this affluent Los Angeles community improvements on the electrical lines, in this case, should be funded by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

There is probably more than one resident in Rolling Hills who could write a check for the project then go into the backyard and finish their game of tennis.


FEMA has more information about the Pre-Disaster Mitigation and Hazard Mitigation Grant programs.

Application period opens April 28 for Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program

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FEMA

This week first responders can begin applying for $100 million in funding for the Fiscal Year 2020 Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program (AFG-S) to help provide personal protective equipment to firefighters and first responders who are managing emergencies during the Coronavirus pandemic.

FEMA will begin accepting AFG-S applications at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday April 28, 2020. The application period will close at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, May 15, 2020, so start planning your application now by reviewing the information below. These tools were produced to help potential applicants begin to plan their AFG-S applications ahead of the application period. These documents can be viewed on the AFGP website at FY 2020 AFG-S COVID-19 Guidance Documents or can be downloaded to your computer.

If you have questions about the technical assistance tools listed above, call or e-mail the AFG Grants Help Desk at 1-866-274-0960; or firegrants@fema.dhs.gov . The AFG Help Desk is open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Thousands of FEMA fire grants, too little time

Over 300 senior level firefighters spent four days this week holed up in a large meeting room west of Washington, DC. They were helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency review thousands of applications received from fire departments and EMS organizations for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER).

Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 applications for AFG funding alone were submitted electronically. They were all reviewed and graded by computers using criteria developed by FEMA. Then the ones that made it through the basic screening were all printed and given to the firefighters for peer review. The computerized technical review and the peer review each make up half of the final score.

The 300 firefighters reviewing the AFG grants were organized into groups of six people at each table, and were given packets of six applications at a time. Every application was reviewed by three evaluators who read the 20 to 35 page document and then wrote by hand their analysis, addressing four categories on a 2-page form.  If the scores among the three evaluators varied too much, they had to discuss it, and either change their scores to come closer into alignment, or write a statement on the scoring form saying it was discussed and no changes were made. Every table of firefighters reviewed 36 to 60 applications each day.

The firefighters reviewing the SAFER grants may have had a different procedure.

The SAFER grants may have all been reviewed, but the firefighters handling the AFG grants worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for four days, Monday through Thursday, and at the end of the day on Thursday there was still a large pile of AFG applications pending.  The FEMA personnel asked for volunteers to work further into Thursday night, and may have even asked some to volunteer Friday morning before they had to get on the shuttle to the airport. It is unlikely that all of the applications got reviewed, and FEMA will have to come up with a plan to finish them, possibly bringing another group of firefighters to Washington.

This year, fiscal 2012, Congress provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. Started in 2001, the fire grant program reached a high in 2009 when it had $985 million to distribute, but the amount appropriated has been declining since then.

FEMA personnel at the grant review meeting estimated that there was enough money available to fund approximately 10 percent of the applications this year, so most departments are going to be disappointed. FEMA hopes to begin rolling out grant notifications to the lucky few in September, if they can get the rest of them reviewed soon.

Follow-up on the IAFC and their federal grants

On April 30, 2010, we wrote a lengthy and well-researched article about the uncanny success the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has enjoyed in receiving very large grants from the U. S. Forest Service and the Department of Homeland Security for issues related to wildland fire. This surprised us, since a very small percentage of the IAFC’s efforts are devoted to wildland fire. Today we wrote a follow-up to the article, and posted it below. The original complete article is HERE.

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For the past several months we have been hearing that the IAFC is extremely upset about the fact that the information in the article has been revealed. They are blindly throwing around accusations that various organizations leaked this data.

Just to set the record straight, we heard from one person that the IAFC had recently received one federal grant for several hundred thousand dollars for a wildland fire related issue. That’s all. And it turned out that the actual amount of the grant was far larger than we were told. All of the rest of the information came from the publicly available web sites listed above, plus spokespersons for the USFS and the IAFC. Every source, other than the original limited, vague, and partially correct original bit of information, is detailed and linked to in the article above. We did not file a Freedom of Information Act request with the U. S. Forest Service, nor did we see any of the results from the multiple FOIA’s that were filed with the USFS.

The fact that the IAFC is so hyper-sensitive about the information in our article becoming public, raises the question of — why are they so sensitive? To borrow a line from the Queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

If the IAFC has a totally clear conscience, the best advice would be transparency, rather than angrily accusing innocent bystanders of providing the information that is publicly available on the Internet.

The U.S. Forest Service could use the same advice. Why did it take Freedom of Information Act requests for them to provide some of the information about which organizations they are giving our taxpayer dollars to?

More FEMA grants in Minnesota for home sprinklers

Some folks in Minnesota are very skilled at applying for FEMA grants. St. Louis County in Minnesota has received a grant for $1.1 million to help 126 private homeowners and business buy outdoor sprinkler systems to protect their property from wildfires. The program will cover 75 percent of the costs of installing the systems. 

As Wildfire Today reported on November 12, 2008, Cook County in Minnesota has already received $3 million in FEMA grants for sprinkler systems for homes and businesses. As we stated then, grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be used for something other than adding sprinklers to private property.