North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety
Environmental Sustainability Report
Update - August 2001
Project Title: Getting to Open Space
Agency: Division of Emergency Management
Project Initiation & Projected Completion Dates: 1996 and ongoing
Gavin Smith, Assistant Director
Hazard Mitigation Section
(919) 715-8000 Ext. 246
Todd Owen, Grants Management Branch
Hazard Mitigation Section
(919) 715-8000 Ext. 259
Project Description: In the aftermath of hurricanes Bertha and Fran in 1996, the North
Carolina Division of Emergency Management (NCDEM) began working with communities to acquire floodprone residential structures through the Hazard Mitigation
Grant Program (HMGP). All property acquired through the HMGP must be dedicated and maintained as open space in perpetuity to prevent future flood damages. As a result,
communities preparing to implement acquisition projects are grappling with two major
issues: what to do with the structure once it is acquired and how to manage/maintain the
open space. Communities are encouraged to work with their project manager as they
To aid in this process, the Division of Emergency Management published a document in April of 2000 entitled, Getting to Open Space: Alternatives to Demolition
and Options for Land Use. This guide for local officials explores the advantages and
disadvantages of six alternative demolition options in terms of their environmental, social
and economic benefits. Also included are potential sources of federal and state assistance.
Actions Necessary for Implementation: When exploring alternatives to demolition
there are several factors to consider. How old is the structure? What is the condition of
the structure? Are there public agencies or nonprofit organizations that would benefit
from all or parts of the structure? Does the structure have any unique architectural
features? Is the structure suitable for a training exercise by local public safety agencies
(i.e., emergency management, fire, police)?
A community can answer these questions then compare the environmental, social and
other benefits of each alternative. After this evaluation the most appropriate alternative
or combination of alternatives can be selected. For example, a structure not suitable for
relocation or deconstruction could be stripped of salvageable materials by a local
nonprofit agency and used for training before being demolished.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg is one example of a community that has extended its program to include the use of two creative alternatives to immediate demolition: stripping
of salvageable materials and public safety training. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity
of Charlotte, the community identifies opportunities to remove and reuse undamaged
interior materials such as hardwood floors, ceiling fans, light fixtures, interior doors,
kitchen appliances, counter tops, cabinets, sinks, door moldings, mantelpieces, basins and
vanities. Several homes also had furnaces and hot water heaters located in the attic,
protecting them from past floodwaters. Volunteers from Habitat Charlotte do the work of
removing the items and taking them off-site for storage and distribution through Habitat's
By salvaging and recycling materials from acquisition/demolition projects, communities can reduce the amount of debris in their landfills, minimize demolition and
landfill costs, even offer opportunities for job training and welfare-to-work programs.
Mecklenburg County Soil & Water Conservation District led an effort to rescue plants
that would have otherwise been leveled during demolition. Ornamental plants like azalea
bushes and flowers were "saved" and transported to a nature preserve, a senior citizen's
community and nearby schools.
In an effort to maintain the aesthetic appeal and safety of the neighborhoods in the
period between acquisition and open space, the city installs plywood – painted black – to
the inside of the windows. This both secures the property, and avoids an abandoned look.
Also, all exterior doors were padlocked and keyed alike to allow only authorized
personnel access to the structures. The county maintains the yards until the projects are
completed to further strengthen the appearance of the neighborhood and honor the
maintenance agreement under the program.
Public safety training is the use of a structure to provide training to local public
safety personnel before the structure is demolished. This provides valuable training
opportunities for firefighters, law enforcement (including K-9 training for drug searches
and S.W.A.T. team training) and other public safety personnel. This approach can also
reduce landfill costs and wastes.
Anticipated Environmental Sustainability Benefits: Properties participating in the
HMGP program are located within the floodplain and as such are often environmentally
sensitive areas. HMGP acquisition projects can be implemented in ways that provide
many benefits to the community, in addition to preventing future flood damages to that
structure. These benefits include: wetland restoration; promotion of recycling and waste
reduction efforts; water quality protection; flood hazard reduction; habitat and wildlife
restoration; housing and community development enhancement; and, training. Homes
slated for demolition can provide a site for training activities for local public safety
agencies. Potential training activities include simulated hostage situations, chemical
spills, and fire suppression.
With landfill space at a premium in most communities, alternatives that reduce
the amount of demolition debris and provide the greatest benefits to the community as a
whole should be considered. Clearly, relocation offers the greatest benefits as the entire
structure is maintained in use. Total demolition provides the fewest benefits and
generates the greatest amount of waste. As a result, this should be the option of last
resort. Regardless of the options chosen, a community should make their plans at the
same time they are going through the acquisition process. This will enable a community
to take advantage of opportunities immediately after acquisition and reduce the potential
Current Status: The North Carolina Center for Geographic Information Analysis
(CGIA) is currently working on a GIS project to map all protected lands within the state.
This will include local, state, federal, nonprofit and North Carolina Land Trust lands.
Partners in this endeavor include CGIA, North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, the Division of Parks & Recreation, the Million Acres Corporation, the
Wildlife Reserve Commission, the State Property Office, North Carolina Land Trust, and
federal agencies. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects resulting in open space will
be included in this project. Once mapped, this information will be used to strategically
target properties adjacent to land being acquired by NCDEM or North Carolina Land
Trust for possible acquisition. An open space working group will be convened quarterly
to identify specific parcels that might be purchased using the pooled resources of the