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FEMA approves UWRF for additional emergency shelters and tornado sirens

March 12, 2009

UW-River Falls has received approval to begin a natural disaster mitigation plan that will provide two storm shelters and a tornado siren on campus

The plan was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will allow the University to apply for Federal grant money to cover future expenditures, Blake Fry, special assistant to the chancellor, said.

The cost for each storm shelter is $125,000, but the cost of the tornado siren is currently unknown, Fry said.

The shelters will be placed at each of the two lab farms on at UWRF and the siren will be constructed at the University’s dairy farm, the Mann Valley Farm.

“At this point, I do not anticipate students being required to cover any of these project related expenses,” Michael Stifter, director of facilities management, said.

FEMA’s approval was required to proceed with the application process, Fry said. A consultant from URS Corporation in Maryland was brought in to assess the risk of natural disasters on campus.

The plan was constructed and approved by the consultant and the University plans to begin the grant application process around July 2009, Fry said.

“FEMA deemed the risk high enough to approve the plan based on a cost-benefit ratio,” Fry said. “Dollar amounts were assigned to human life and property. The information was analyzed before approval was made.”

The plan drafted by the consultant arranged risk based on highest priority. Tornados and windstorms were listed as most probable, while the lowest priority natural hazard was hail, according to the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Plan.

“The farms we have identified as areas that need attention, which is part of our hope with this FEMA grant,” Stifter said.

Wisconsin is ranked No. 32 out of 59 U.S. states and territories in natural disaster incidents reported. Of these incidents, the majority are tornados, floods and winter storms, according to a 2009 FEMA report.

The Federal grant will cover 75 percent of the expenses but 25 percent must come from the state of Wisconsin or the University, Fry said.

“Larger dollar amounts make it easier to request money from the state,” Fry said “it moves far more quickly.”

UWRF is the first University in the state to have a hazard mitigation plan approved.

“The money is there, we’re just the first to take advantage of it,” Fry said.

The approved plan not only addresses current issues but will allow the University to apply for future grants as needed, Fry said.

Indirectly, the plan will also help address other emergencies because the storm shelters may be used for other purposes and the siren can broadcast messages.

Stifter said he would like to see the University develop an Emergency Operations Center to help prevent future emergencies. He said much work has yet to be done.

Fry said he assumes that UWRF is of fairly low risk to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina but he believes the plan is necessary.

Fry stated his opinion about UWRF’s susceptibility to natural disasters.

“What’s ironic is I would guess that we are less susceptible to natural disasters than other universities.”