When disaster strikes, be it wildfires, floods, or even an urban avalanche, first responders will be ready, thanks to years of preparation from the Missoula Office of Emergency Management.

Director Adriane Beck hosted a room full of first responders and other stakeholders on Wednesday at the Missoula County Courthouse to hear a presentation from environmental engineer Daphne Digrindakis of Tetra Tech in Helena.

"Tetra Tech was hired by Missoula County to do the five year update for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan," Digrindakis said. "This plan is required by FEMA te keep the county and the city eligible for mitigation funds following disasters. What the plan involves is looking at the hazards that are most likely to cause a disaster in Missoula County. We do hazard profiles and risk assessment and then we develop a mitigation strategy. The idea is to protect people and structures from damages and fatalities during an incident."

Digrindakis said the assessments usually focus on eight kinds of disasters.

"Wildfire is probably the most important, followed by flooding, and then we look at some man-made hazards, as well," she said. "Communicable disease like Ebola and Zika this past year, we look at terrorism, we look at severe weather, of course in Montana we're accustomed to the high winds and hail we get in the summer along with the heavy snows and cold weather in the winter. We also look at dam failure, and there are three high-hazard dams in Missoula County and two in  Ravalli County."

Digrindakis said officials take the existing five-year plan and outline the methodology of how they will craft the new plan. At their next meeting, they will score each hazard using FEMA guidelines

"Wildfire usually ranks at number one, whereas severe weather might be ranked at number three," she continued. "At our first meeting, we'll look at a wide range of hazards, score them, and then come up with a prioritized list."

With each incident, a mitigation strategy is prepared, so that response time is reduced to prevent loss of life and property.

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