The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services Homeland Security Division has approved Grand Forks County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, which allows the county to apply for grant money to support its disaster relief efforts.

The plan is required by law and needs to be updated every five years. Grand Forks County’s previous plan expired in January 2020 and was approved again on Monday, Jan. 11. Now that the plan has been approved by the state, on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the county can pursue federal grants for projects designed to reduce the loss of life and property in a variety of emergency situations.

“The intent of hazard mitigation planning is to keep communities safer by understanding hazards and threats, and then identifying action steps to reduce their impacts,” said Cynthia Pic, chairwoman of the Grand Forks County Commission.

The process for updating the plan began in the fall of 2019 and was led by Kari Goelz, the county's director of emergency management. Goelz worked with Heartland Consulting Group, which was hired to assist with the update. A series of community meetings was scheduled to bring together public and private partners to strategize new mitigation projects to be included in the plan, as well as updating existing projects.

“The turnout at the community meetings exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Goelz said.

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According to a news release from Grand Forks County officials, North Dakota is one of three states that has an agreement with FEMA to administer both the planning and the program portions of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Since 1997, a total of $253 million in local, tribal, state and federal funding has been secured for mitigation projects that have reduced the impacts of flooding, severe winter and summer weather and other threats across the state.

According to the release, a study by the National Institute for Building Standards found pre-disaster mitigation saves an average of $6 for every $1 spent.

“We encourage the planning teams to now take the next step and apply for grant dollars and other funding opportunities to enact their mitigation strategies,” said Cody Schulz, state Division of Homeland Security Director.