Walton County officials begin plans for disaster prevention

If you would like to get involved, contact your local county's mitigation management team.
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 8:52 PM CST
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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The Panhandle is a hot-spot for natural disasters, and Walton County agencies are laying out the groundwork for preventative measures to ensure the area is ready to handle any emergencies that arise.

Representatives from multiple county and state agencies, including the sheriff’s office, South Walton Fire District, Florida Forest Service, and others met at the Walton County Emergency Operations Center Wednesday to review the 2022 mitigation plan, and re-evaluate their priorities for 2023.

“What are some things we need to do to prevent loss of life, prevent damage to property, and prevent damage to the environment?” Jeff Goldberg, director of Walton County Emergency Management Services, said. “FEMA requires each county to have a local mitigation strategy plan, and what that does is it talks about what previous disasters we’ve had, it talks about what our hazard vulnerability analysis is, and then what our goals are.”

Goldberg added that Walton County officials take their local mitigation plan a step further by evaluating costs of mitigation projects, and how it may affect the surrounding communities.

Each agency will look at last year’s list of projects and determine which projects have been completed or are no longer necessary, and what still needs to be done.

“We want to know what’s going on in their area of expertise and how we can incorporate that into some of our projects, and what we need to do to better respond and recover to disasters,” Goldberg said.

One of the ideas for preparing the area for when weather strikes is moving overhead utilities underground.

Scenic Walton’s Executive Director Leigh Moore attended Wednesday’s meeting and said she represented the community when bringing this idea to the table. Moore said while it is a long and expensive process, underground utilities are more reliable during weather emergencies.

“We are in a very hurricane-prone area, as we all are painfully aware, and so we feel this real sense of urgency,” Moore said. “What the utility industry is seeing is that underground utilities perform tremendously better, both during and post-storm, than overhead facilities.”

Switching to underground utilities is just one of the many ideas that officials may decide to act on when they finalize the plan in a few months.

As the county agencies work together to come up with this year’s plan, Goldberg said what they really need is input from the community.

“We’re not everywhere. So, we want to know where some of the trouble spots are. We want the public input; we want the public to come to these meetings,” Goldberg said.

If you are interested in getting involved with mitigation plans and preparing for weather emergencies, Goldberg said you can reach out to the Walton County Emergency Management team via their email or social media, or come to the Local Mitigation Strategy Working Group meetings. To learn when those meetings are, click here.