Niobrara County News

Niobrara County: Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, Updates and Agendas

Hazard Planning Meetings Scheduled

Most people who live in Niobrara County have been directly affected by one or more very severe winter storms and/or or tornados. The county and its residents are vulnerable to these and other kinds of disasters such as extreme temperatures, hazardous material spills, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and hail. According to Kester Akers, County Emergency Management Coordinator. “While we are working on planning for catastrophic scale disasters such as tornadoes, we need to remember that smaller scale events like hail or flooding also have the potential to take lives in the county.”

According to contractor, Barb Beck, hired to revise the plan, “We may not know when a disaster might hit, but we can reasonably predict based on the past, that there will be one or more in the future. By preparing ahead for natural disasters, our goal is to prevent injury and loss of life, and reduce damage to property” said Beck.

The county together with the incorporated towns of Lusk, Manville, and Van Tassell have begun the process to update the 2003 multi-hazard mitigation plan. “The original plan, intended to help us be better prepared for natural disasters, was completed in 2003 and it’s time to have another look at the situation” said Akers.

A planning team consisting of representatives from fire, emergency services, law enforcement, public works, and WYDOT will soon be meeting to start the project. In addition to working with this committee, Beck would like to hear from anyone else with an interest in pre-disaster planning. “The more ideas we get from the public, the better this plan will be at protecting Niobrara County and its citizens.” Two public meetings are scheduled the week of February 16. The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 18, at 6 p.m. at the county courthouse in Lusk. The second meeting will be held at the Firehall in Van Tassell on Thursday, February 19, also starting at 6 p.m. The meetings will cover the same material about the project and how to offer input.

To see the one-page briefing paper on the project you can visit the library’s web page at Additional information will be posted as the project moves forward. You may also contact Kester Akers at 334-2674 or Barb Beck at 406 2008-0610 or


Niobrara County
Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan
Planning Team Meeting
February 18, 2009
2 p.m. County Courthouse, Lusk

Welcome and Introductions (5 minutes)

Multi-Hazard Mitigation Planning (25 minutes)
� What is it? Why do it?
� Who is doing what? Roles of the planning team, FEMA, state, county, town, contractor, and the public
� Process and schedule for the revision
� 2004 Plan, plan accomplishments

Natural Hazards in Niobrara County (60 minutes)
� County hazard history
� Hazards of most concern
� Discuss potential scenarios
� Develop problem statements
� Preliminary ideas for additional goals and projects

Development Trends (5 minutes)
� What development is on-going or proposed?

Critical Facilities and Vulnerable Populations (10 minutes)
� Brainstorm lists for each

Wrap-up (5 minutes)
� Next steps
� Schedule
� Where to get information
� How to stay involved

Niobrara County
Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan
Public Meetings
Lusk and Van Tassell
February 18-19, 2009

Welcome and Introductions (5 minutes)

Multi-Hazard Mitigation Planning (15 minutes)
� What is it? Why do it?
� Who is doing what? Roles of the planning team, FEMA, state, county, town, contractor, and the public
� Process and schedule for the revision
� 2003 Plan

Natural Hazards in Niobrara County (45 minutes)
� County hazard history
� Hazards of most concern
� Potential scenarios, What could happen here?

Development Trends (5 minutes)
� What development is on-going or proposed?

Wrap-up (5 minutes)
� Next steps
� Schedule
� Where to get information
� How to stay involved


Briefing Paper– January 2009
Niobrara County
Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan Update

What is a multi-hazard mitigation plan (MHMP)?

An MHMP looks at natural hazards that the county may be susceptible to and ways to lessen the vulnerability of disasters caused by those hazards. The county’s existing MHMP, approved in 2003, is being updated to make sure the county, its unincorporated communities and the towns of Lusk, Manville, and VanTassell remain disaster-resistant and less vulnerable to property damage and loss of life from a natural disaster. To remain current, the state and FEMA require that the plan be updated every five years. By successfully revising the plan, the county will continue to be eligible to compete for project funds. The county will also be eligible for post-disaster assistance from the state and/or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the event of a major disaster. Adoption of the plan is voluntary, but all jurisdictions–the county and the three communities–will need to adopt the plan if they wish to qualify for the funding and assistance.

What is in the plan?

The plan will contain assessments of natural hazards, vulnerability to each hazard, and an updated list of past disasters. Potential losses from disasters will be estimated. Accomplishments from the original plan will be listed, and goals and projects identified by town and county residents and local governments will be added as appropriate.

How will the plan be prepared?

The county has contracted with Beck Consulting of Red Lodge Montana to update the plan. Working with Niobrara County and the three incorporated towns over the next eight months, Beck Consulting will update the hazard history, convene and work with a planning committee, hold public meetings to gather input, and develop any needed additional goals and projects. A draft plan will be made available for public review and any comments received will be incorporated. The plan will then be sent to the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for technical review. Finally, Lusk, Manville, Van Tassell, and Niobrara County will have the opportunity to adopt the plan.

How do we offer input?

Input is encouraged any time during the process until adoption by the governing bodies in the fall of 2009. Input from the public and knowledgeable individuals will help make the plan the highest quality possible. Public meetings will be designed to offer opportunity for input and all meetings will be noticed and open to the public. The Lusk Herald will be provided with the meeting times, locations, and periodic updates. Comments can be submitted by phone, in writing, or by e-mail to Kester Akers, Niobrara County Emergency Management, 307 334-2674,, or Barb Beck at 406 208-0610,, P.O. Box 870 Red Lodge, MT. 59068


Niobrara County MHMP
Project Kick-Off Meeting
January 6, 2009

Meeting Participants:
County Commissioners, Richard Ladwig, Arlene Zerbst Rapp, Greg Starck
County Clerk, Becky Freeman
County Emergency Management Coordinator, Kester Akers
Contractor, Barb Beck

Purpose of Meeting

1) Contractor introduction
2) Review benefits of revising MHMP
3) Review the process that will be followed and commissioners’ roles
4) Validate the list of natural hazards that will be studied in depth
5) Discuss how communications will occur during the project
6) Answer any questions from the commissioners

Contractor Introduction

Barb explained that this is the fifth county in Wyoming she has worked with on hazard mitigation planning. She has also prepared plans for seven Montana counties. Two plans are still wrapping up, all others have been approved and adopted. Ms. Beck’s background is social sciences and her firm based in Red Lodge, Montana, offers a variety of facilitation, planning, and conflict resolution services.

Reasons for Revising the Plan

The bottom line goal for revising this plan is to reduce the risks of loss of or damage to property and loss of life or injury. By going through the planning process, not only do good ideas for projects emerge, but people’s awareness is raised. Updating and approving the plan also make the county and its jurisdictions eligible to compete for grant funds and eligible to receive assistance following a major disaster. The county’s plan was adopted in 2003, and FEMA requires that the plans be updated every five years. Barb handed out a one-page briefing paper about the project.

Revision Process

The process for updating the MHMP is outlined in the contract proposal and attached to the contract. The commissioners provided a copy of the land use plan. The process will use a small planning team combined with a series of public meetings. Fewer meetings will be necessary for the revision than took place to develop the original document. The process and schedule can be adjusted as needed once the project is underway. The group then brainstormed names of individuals to participate on the planning team.

Kester Akers, EM
Richard Ladwig, Commissioner
Elaine, Commissioner
Greg Starck, Commissioner
Dan Shannon, Warden
Bob Brummond, Hospital
Rick Luchsinger, Schools
Connie Baker,Senior Center
Randy Stensaas, Lusk PD
John Eddy, Lusk FD
Robert Freeman, Rural FD
Pete Pier, Lusk Mayor
Richard Schroeder, Manville Mayor
Bill Matthews, Van Tassell Mayor
Rich Zerbe, Sheriff
Jackie Bredthauer, Chamber
John Lashmett, JP Oil
Ed Rapp, NRCS
Tommy Stephens, FSA
Lisa Shaw, Conservation Dist.
Union Pacific Rep
Brian Zerbe, SAR
Corey Wilcox, EMS
Gail Mahnke, Weed and Pest
Fred Thomas, Road and Bridge

The hazard histories will be researched and written up by an engineering firm, AMEC, based in Lakewood, Colorado. Barb has signed a subcontract with them and the research is already underway. Barb will remain responsible for the overall product including the sub contractor’s work. This work will provide a factual basis for developing goals and projects.

Planning team and public meetings will be held in February and March with the draft revised plan being ready for public review in April. Barb will touch bases with the elected officials again once the goals and projects have been drafted.

Barb asked the commissioners to participate in the plan revision in the following ways; provide names for the planning team members, help determine the hazards that should be studied in depth, encourage people to participate, make county staff available to participate, participate in meetings as you are able, and finally, adopt the final plan.

Hazards to be Evaluated in Depth

The hazards that were listed in the 2003 plan included; flood, winter storm, drought, tornado, hail, thunderstorm, wind, and extreme cold. After brief discussion it was decided to add earthquakes, wildland fire, and hazardous materials. The commissioners did not see a need to add dam failure or windblown deposits, but that will be left up to the engineering firm preparing the risk assessment. The commissioners did point out that while there are many trains that pass through the county daily, 100% of the cargo is coal. Hazardous materials do pass through the county on trucks and there is an H2S hazard in the oil fields north of Lusk. The commissioners recalled a severe ice storm in the 1980’s and an earthquake that they felt in the fall of 2008. The epicenter of this quake was north of Douglas.
Communications During the Project

Barb explained that while Kester will be her primary contact for the project, she will want to keep the commissioners updated on the progress throughout the project. In order to accomplish this, she will provide a progress report each month with her invoice. The report will provide information on what has been accomplished, what is planned next, and the status of the project with respect to percent completion, budget, and schedule. This will go to Becky Freeman for distribution to the commissioners with a copy to Kester. Barb will also be providing news releases to the Lusk Herald about the project and will speak with the Chamber and Library about using a website to post information about the project online. (Note: Following this meeting, the librarian has agreed to post information on the library’s webpage.)

Barb took a photo of the commissioners for use in the plan.

Kester and Barb did a brief driving tour of Lusk, took photographs, and met with several key individuals following the meeting.