In an effort to mitigate loss of life and property damage in many of the coastal communities along the United States Eastern and Gulf Coasts, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has started a program that deals with increasing hurricane awareness and improving hurricane preparedness.
Project Impact, which started in October, 1997 with pilot programs in only seven communities that represented a wide range of regions in America, is a program that has helped FEMA build an emergency management blueprint for communities all across the United States. These communities can then utilize this blueprint to fit their plans in order to reduce the effects of a disaster such as a hurricane.
In June, 1998, James Lee Witt, then FEMA's Director, and probably the most busiest director in the agency's history, made a public plea to forty-nine vulnerable communities throughout the United States to join this program. Among these communities were Freeport on Long Island in New York, Avalon, New Jersey, Ocean City, New Jersey and Atlantic City, New Jersey. All of these coastal communities in the New York and New Jersey region have all been impacted by the effects of hurricanes, coastal storms, and nor'easters over the years.
The mission of Project Impact is Building a Disaster Resistant Community. It is a national initiative that aims to change the way America deals with disasters by encouraging communities such as the ones mentioned above to come together to assess their hazards vulnerabilities and implement strategies to limit damage before disasters occur.
Part of this program is devoted to promoting hurricane awareness and improving hurricane readiness. Freeport, New York, which is in Suffolk County on Long Island, is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. According to HURREVAC, which is a storm surge model, a Category Four Hurricane making impact there would put the town under water. Category Two and Three Hurricanes would just barely miss putting the community under water.
Back in 1938 during the Long Island Express, Freeport was on the western side of the storm, but did receive some impact from it. Freeport's current population is approximately 45,000, and has experienced a lot of damage over time from weather related disasters.
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Since joining the program in June of 1998, Freeport has made tremendous strides in making its community better prepared for a weather related disaster such as a hurricane. The town has created committees to address problems with bulkhead, elevations in commercial areas, and public awareness.
Some of the immediate benefits of the town's efforts are a full time emergency manager, various projects to mitigate potential problems such as raising street elevations as well as flood prone homes. All of this has helped the community to provide a ten percent reduction in flood insurance premiums to Freeport residents.
In addition, the Mayor has created a campaign in local schools and the public library that includes having lectures and demonstrations on the effects of hurricanes as well as other basic information about these devastating and deadly tropical cyclones.
All residents from youngsters to senior citizens are all invited to participate and learn. There is also plenty of emergency information that the town provides on their web site, www.freeportny.com.
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Freeport has also taken additional initiatives by assisting neighboring Long island communities such as East Rockaway in joining the Project Impact program, and provide information in making East Rockaway a more disaster resistant community.
FEMA has also helped out the nearby community of Rye, New York by making it too more disaster resistant. While it has been a long time since a hurricane has made a direct impact on Nassau County, they have been too close to the center of the action for comfort.
Long Island's South Shore has a long way to go in mitigating the chances of a major disaster, but with Freeport leading the way, this densely populated 135-mile strip of land has started the journey to help future generations of coastal residents live somewhat easier.
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