Preparedness

Ohio Saves More than $20 Million in Taxpayer Money by Mitigating Properties

More than 1,500 properties have been mitigated thanks to grants and state funds.

by Jim McKay / September 28, 2018
Findlay Fire Department fireman Barry Sauber, left, and Steve Brown hook up a tow chain to a vehicle stalled in floodwaters in Findlay, Ohio, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008. An elderly driver and an infant were rescued from the vehicle earlier. Much of the state was waterlogged Wednesday following three days of heavy rain and melting snow. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Mitigation Branch of Ohio’s Emergency Management Agency figures it prevented more than $20 million in damages from 2012 through 2016 by investing in disaster management before a disaster strikes.

The mission of the branch is to invest monies in projects and planning efforts that reduce the cost of damage caused by disasters and minimize the cost to the community.  According to a recent Pew report, most states spending on disasters occurs after the fact and not enough of it goes to mitigation. Research has shown that every dollar spend on mitigation saves taxpayers $6 when disaster hits.

From 2012 through 2016, Ohio’s Mitigation Branch mitigated 1,525 properties to get to the figure of $20,641,884 in mitigation savings. The state has been able to provide matches for federal dollars spent on disaster response, and the state allocated about $8 million in mitigation funds after a series of floods in 2007.

In 2007, the Blanchard River rose 7.5 feet above flood level in Findlay, representing the highest flood level since 1913 and it was 8.7 feet above flood level in Ottawa.

“As a result of those floods, the state legislature decided they were going to allocate some state funds to the Blanchard River watershed to help mitigation long term,” said Steve Ferryman, mitigation branch chief. “Those came in three installments and essentially what they are using that for is to construct a diversion channel.”

That diversion channel will help move water out of the area faster during a flood.

A priority in mitigation funding is for the acquisition and demolition of properties that flood repeatedly, and for other mitigation strategies, including elevating structures. “We’ve done quite a few elevations,” Ferryman said. “We’re starting to see more requests for those type of projects, and we do some tornado safe rooms as well. It’s the risk that determines how we prioritize those projects.”

Ferryman said the state has been investing in mitigation since the ’90s. “We’ve been lucky in Ohio, we’ve historically put some match [of federal funds] into the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program,” he said. “Back in the ’90s, we used to match it dollar for dollar.” Since then, matching has been “pretty consistent” at about 12.5 percent.

Ferryman said he uses spreadsheets to keep track of dollars spent on mitigation. The Pew Report said that keeping track of monies spent on mitigation is difficult because the money is usually spent across various agencies, and most states are unable to track it. If a state doesn’t know how much it is spending and on what, it’s difficult to know how much is needed to be spent and for what mitigation activities.

The mitigation branch uses the FEMA benefit cost analysis software to measure return on investment of mitigation funds. The benefit cost analysis examines the benefits of the project over the useful life of that project and the costs. If the benefits aren’t greater than the costs, the project is “dead on arrival,” Ferryman said.