Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast

Clark County’s hazard plan to cover climate change

The dangers of climate change will be addressed for the first time in Clark County’s hazard mitigation plan.

Southern Nevada officials from the county to the Moapa Band of Paiutes are updating the plan to remain eligible for federal disaster mitigation and response funding. Clark County Assistant Emergency Manager Irene Navis said the Federal Emergency Management Agency administers the program and in 2015 added climate change to its requirements for communities to address.

The plan references climate change and its related threats, such as drought, wildfires and flooding. Las Vegas recently broke a streak of 116 rainless days, not enough to end the region’s ongoing drought.

“All of those hazards can be tied back to climate change overall,” Navis said. “Since we’re in, for example, 10 years of a drought, dry vegetation can contribute to the potential for wildfires, can also contribute to flash flooding and that sort of thing.”

Climate change has largely been wiped from federal agencies’ radar under President Donald Trump, though a recent federal report did conclude that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The plan keeps agencies eligible for hazard mitigation dollars and, in the event of an emergency, can be used to tap additional federal dollars. Navis said the government provides 75 percent of the funds, while the county accounts for the remainder in a soft match using dollars, resources and manpower.

The government kicked in $150,000 for this most recent plan update and the research associated with it it, and the county accounted for $50,000, Navis said.

“The feds expect us to spend the funding on either preparation for hazard mitigation or as a justification for future mitigation projects,” she said.

The plan was originally developed in 2007 and updated in 2012. Residents can provide feedback on the new version when it is released in February. Navis said major updates come every five years, but officials also hold a tabletop exercise to review and adjust the plan annually.

After flooding in 2014, Navis said, the Moapa Band of Paiutes issued a disaster declaration but couldn’t access federal reimbursement dollars until they were annexed into the county’s plan. The move made the tribe eligible to apply for up to $1 million in reimbursement, she said.

“They would have gotten partial reimbursement on some of the costs, but they wouldn’t have been able to get reimbursement on the mitigation measures,” Navis said. “So it’s really important to have that in place for eligibility reasons, for insurance reasons, and for making sure that we have a plan that all agencies can turn to.”

Navis said pre-disaster mitigation grant funding is helping to fund a study on unreinforced masonry, buildings that may be more at risk if an earthquake hits the Las Vegas Valley.

Structures built before the 1970s are potentially unreinforced masonry construction, she said, though Navis would not name any specific structures that had been identified in town.

Hazard mitigation studies also help boost the community’s rating for flood and homeowners insurance.

“Hazard mitigation planning is important to a community because it lowers risks associated with disasters,” said Clark County Deputy Fire Chief John Steinbeck, who oversees the county’s Office of Emergency Management, in a Jan. 23 news release. “Lower risks can result in reduced costs for homeowners insurance and flood insurance, for example. Maintaining this plan also helps us to be eligible for project funds for mitigation projects.”

The multi-agency plan includes the county, Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Mesquite, the Las Vegas Band of Paiutes and the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Clark County School District and the Clark County Water Reclamation District.

The plan is expected to be published on the county website the first week of February for the public to review. Copies will also be sent to the state emergency management office as well as FEMA for approval.