Project Impact Faces Budget Review

A program designed to better prepare communities for disasters, may be eliminated.

"Project Impact " is among a number of federal programs that could be dropped under President Bush's budget plan.

There are now 256 communities taking part in Project Impact, including Harrison County. So far, the entire program has cost taxpayers $25 million. But supporters say it will save money in the long run.

Project Impact helped fund improvements at a Pass Christian fire station. Federal money paid for storm shutters and the installation of steel beams to better support the roof during a hurricane.

Harrison County's Project Impact director says the president's budget analysts need to understand that such investments save money when a hurricane hits.

"I know how they operate. They just see Project Impact and 25 million dollars and they say, well that's a 25 million dollar savings. But the true savings is the savings after a disaster that the federal government doesn't have to fork out," Richard Rose said.

The cost of Hurricane Georges was $13 million in Harrison County alone.

Project Impact is now looking to better protect public buildings from such storms. A plan to improve the courthouse includes strengthening the roof and installing hurricane shutters. And the courthouse isn't the only building the program may include.

"Many of the other critical facilities that government owns, the fire stations for example. The police stations and sub stations as well as city halls," Rose said.

The Harrison County civil defense director says Project Impact's philosophy of investing money in mitigation and prevention before a hurricane makes good sense. Because it's not a question of "if" the coast will get hit by a hurricane. The question is "when."

Civil Defense Director Linda Rouse says spending money ahead of a storm is prudent thinking.

"Anytime that you can prevent something from happening, you're way ahead of the game. And anything that you can put into mitigation projects is extremely beneficial to everybody and everything involved."

President Bush and Congress will decide if Project Impact is worth the federal taxpayers' investment.