Sometimes, FEMA Gets There Before Disaster Most people know the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the work it does after a disaster hits. But a tiny town in the rural Ozarks region of southern Missouri is seeing the other side of FEMA — the side that provides assistance before disaster strikes.
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Sometimes, FEMA Gets There Before Disaster

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Sometimes, FEMA Gets There Before Disaster

Sometimes, FEMA Gets There Before Disaster

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Jennifer Moore of member station KSMU has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTERING SCHOOLCHILDREN)

JENNIFER MOORE: Builders will then shoot four inches of concrete on the inside of the roof and reinforce it with steel bars, making it virtually tornado proof. Linda Watts works for the local emergency management office and she applied for the FEMA grant, which covered 90 percent of the construction costs.

LINDA WATTS: It was recommended. And we were put in touch with Monolithic Domes in Texas. And that took us three years just to get the structure approved.

MOORE: The new shelter will hold up to 400 people - that's more than the entire population of Niangua. Over the past couple of years, the impoverished town has been hit with no fewer than eight disasters, including one a year ago that killed a resident. Elbert Cannon remembers that tornado well. He was on his farm tractor when he saw the tornado approaching.

ELBERT CANNON: And I barely - barely got to my house by the time it hit. And the old house was crackin' and a-poppin', and it took part of the roof off and, 'course, blew the windows out. And the house was within probably five seconds of just exploding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOLCHILDREN IN AWE)

MOORE: Unidentified Child #2: That's the (unintelligible). There's one. Look.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOLCHILDREN YELLING)

WATTS: They have just really put this thing together within the last six months.

MOORE: Linda Watts says this is the first time this construction crew has built a monolithic dome shelter using FEMA grant money.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREECHING VALVE)

MOORE: The builders screech open the valve on a tank of propane they'll use to heat the insulation lining the roof. The grant program is part of FEMA's pre- disaster mitigation efforts, aimed at lessening a disaster's impact by providing aid before a disaster hits. Butch Kinerney, spokesperson of FEMA's mitigation department, says the grants fund the construction of shelters like the one.

BUTCH KINERNEY: They are oftentimes in places that are more rural, where you don't have schools which have been constructed to withstand tornadic winds, you'll see them outside mobile home parks and those kinds of places.

MOORE: Disaster management experts say the effort makes sense. But Bill Waugh, who teaches disaster management at Georgia State University, says FEMA has underfunded its disaster prevention programs over the past decade. He says all eyes are on the Obama administration, which he hopes will restore FEMA's budget for pre-disaster mitigation.

BILL WAUGH: Currently the people they're hearing from certainly are veterans from that era, but they're also professional emergency managers, who tend to be focused on the mitigation phase.

MOORE: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Moore.

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