County takes comments from residents on all-hazards plan

As part of its five-year update to Sussex County’s All Hazard Multi-Jurisdictional Mitigation Plan, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center recently invited county residents and property owners to attend a public meeting to review and comment on the final draft of the plan.

The federally required plan, first adopted in 2005 and updated in 2010, is to serve as a comprehensive long-term planning tool used to identify various strategies local emergency planners would use in the event of a disaster. The overall goal is to reduce or eliminate the loss of human life and damage to property as a result of hazards, both natural and man-made.

“The plan is not a contract or agreement,” said Anthony Anthony Mangeri, planning lead with the Olson Group Ltd. “It’s a strategy, a design based on hazards and vulnerabilities.”

The packed meeting included officials from municipalities throughout Sussex County who have participated in update discussions. Meetings for the update began in November 2015, and all county municipalities were asked to participate and take part in an interview process to help planners collect data.

As it is a five-year update, it concentrates on what happened between 2010 and 2015. Once the plan is approved by FEMA, jurisdictions will need to adopt it via resolution.

The 279-page update reviews planning, hazard identification, risk assessment, capabilities assessment and mitigation strategy.

Like most states, flooding is ranked first in terms of hazards, with the county being at low risk for earthquakes. Tsunamis even ranked low on the list of hazards, with only a minor 2-foot wave surge on the bay in 2013. Although Sussex County has never experienced an act of terrorism, that risk, too, was ranked, said Project Manager Adam Montella of the Olson Group, because the threat is fluid.

Mangeri noted that some of those in the working group, which included County and municipal officials, had wanted to include erosion as a hazard.

A small fly in the ointment during the two-plus-hour meeting was the presence of upset residents from Mallard Lakes, a community near Selbyville, who are currently in litigation with their homeowner’s association to cover the costs associated with Hurricane Sandy damage. Although the residents had a separate meeting earlier that day with officials, many still attended the public hearing and voiced their discontent.

“We aren’t being represented, and that’s why we’re here,” said one attendee.

Another attendee asked if anyone actually visits the sites that have reported damage.

Joe Thomas, director of the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) said they put out a media blitz requesting those who have damage to report it to the EOC. Once data is collected from the reports, that information is relayed to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, which reviews it, along with FEMA.

“The State sends out damage assessment teams — someone from FEMA, someone from the State, Public Health, Red Cross — and they look at the damage you’ve reported to verify the information. From there, a determination is made whether or not we qualify for assistance.”

Montella said that the federal government actually spends a great deal of time looking for those who may have been affected by a storm, in order to give them information about reporting damage.

“They can only act upon what was reported.”

One Mallard Lakes resident, who was living in the development when Sandy hit, said their frustration is that they were assured by the community’s management that the damage reporting was taken care of.

“Now it’s 48 months… We still have no certificates of occupancy, and we should not be in those homes. Here we are with investments that we can’t live in, we can’t sell — it’s a nightmare.”

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson was called in to join the meeting and said that while there is litigation related to Mallard Lakes still pending, he cannot speak to anything related to that.

Attorney Dean Campbell, who represents the Mallard Lakes homeowners, asked Lawson about accountability.

“We’ve had a number of concerns about accountability. I know the purpose of this plan is to try to mitigate hazards as much as possible for the future, correct things that, if they weren’t right five years ago, let’s fix them now. Everyone in this room, I think, will understand and appreciate the fact that, in the aftermath of Sandy, something went wrong with the Mallard Lakes folks…

“We all know plans can be written — you can write anything you want — but without accountability, things fall through like they have. How do we fix that?”

Lawson said that, ultimately, the County is accountable for mitigation and reaction after the storm.

“The plan is only as good as the paper it’s written on — we’ve all heard that. I think lessons learned specifically to Sandy are, hopefully, incorporated in the plan. And who’s accountable? We are.”

For more information, to view the current plan and future updates, as well as submit comments, visit