Introducing: Wisconsin Emergency Management

Wisconsin Emergency Management coordinates resources to support a safe and resilient Wisconsin.


Introducing: Wisconsin Emergency Management


Who are they?

Wisconsin Emergency Management is a division of the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.  Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) builds capabilities and coordinates resources to support a safe and resilient Wisconsin. The bulk of WEM is organized into two Bureaus: 1) Response and Recovery; 2) Planning and Preparedness. These two sectors are responsible for carrying out the process of emergency management as well as the support for it.

WEM home page:


How Does WEM Support Coastal Resilience?

WEM supports coastal resilience through the emergency management process. The process involves four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. WEM supports all phases to help communities become more resilient and able to bounce back from all manner of adverse events, including coastal hazards. WEM supports these emergency management phases in the following ways:


Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether or to reduce the effects of disasters when they do occur. This phase focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. WEM has grants available for communities to implement hazard mitigation projects.


The preparedness phase involves the development of action plans that detail what to do when a disaster occurs. Some of these measures include easily understood communication plans, warning systems, evacuation and rescue plans, plans for collecting and distributing supplies, and various trainings.  WEM produces plans at the state level and provides technical assistance to counties, tribes, and municipalities in their planning and preparedness efforts. WEM also provides training and exercising statewide.


Responding to a disaster involves putting the preparedness plans into action. This can involve mobilizing the first wave of emergency services and first responders to the disaster area which includes firefighters, police, and ambulance crews. WEM coordinates and deploys state and federal resources when incidents escalate beyond local capabilities.


The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure. WEM has grants available for communities looking to start the recovery process after a disaster.


Funding opportunities for coastal communities with WEM:

Grant assistance is available for pre-disaster hazard mitigation projects and post-disaster recovery and mitigation projects. Many of these grants are funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Coastal communities are especially at risk and may benefit from some of these grant programs.

Hazard Mitigation Assistance Programs 

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant programs provide funding for eligible mitigation activities that reduce disaster losses and protect life and property from future disaster damages. These are the ones that FEMA currently funds:

  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)- Assists in implementing long-term hazard mitigation measures following a major disaster.
  • Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC)- Funds projects that focus on a proactive response to disasters. To learn more, check out this blog.
  • Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA)- provides funds for projects to reduce or eliminate risk of flood damage to buildings that are insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on an annual basis.

Recovery Programs


Examples of funded projects:

Hazard Mitigation

Coastal Resilient Infrastructure Project in Fox Point

An ongoing application to FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation program (now BRIC) to pursue a hybrid coastal structure to protect critical road and utility infrastructure threatened by coastal erosion on Lake Michigan. Presentation about Fox Point.


January 2020 Wisconsin Severe Winter Storm and Flooding

“FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by severe winter storm and flooding in Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine counties.” This will, “supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storm and flooding from January 10-12, 2020” WEM requested the federal disaster declaration and is now implementing the PA program (including Section 406) and the HMGP program for this area of the state. Some of the HMGP funding from this disaster will be used to acquire and demolish a residential structure at imminent risk of lakeshore erosion.

July 2019 Wisconsin Severe Storms, Tornadoes, Straight-line Winds, and Flooding

In July 2019 a severe storm swept across Wisconsin causing widespread flooding and wind damage to about 18 counties and two tribes. A disaster declaration was declared on August 27, 2019. FEMA Public Assistance funds were provided to those counties to rebuild infrastructure. The total financial assistance cost was estimated to be about $19.5 million.

August-September 2018 Wisconsin Severe Storms, Tornadoes, Straight-line Winds, Flooding, and Landslides

Severe storms swept across Wisconsin during August and September of 2018 causing massive flooding and landslides. This was declared a FEMA disaster and communities and individuals were awarded funding assistance. Financial assistance provided from the Individual and Households Program across Wisconsin amounted to about $8.9 million dollars. Public Assistance grant money amounted to about $24.6 million dollars.


Interview with WEM

Katie Sommers, CFM, is the Hazard Mitigation Section Supervisor, Wisconsin Emergency Management. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about the program and how it fits in to coastal resiliency. If you have more questions and want to reach out to her directly her email is

1) What unique gaps does WEM fill that other agencies do not?

WEM coordinates the delivery of state and federal resources during and after disaster events. The Hazard Mitigation Section administers FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs to state, local, and tribal governments in the state.


2) Which other organizations do you collaborate regularly with on coastal hazard issues?

WCMP, CHWG, USACE, WDNR, USGS, FEMA, UW Sea Grant, NOAA, county and municipal governments.


3) What types of funding do you have available specifically for coastal communities?

Our funding is available statewide, but can be used to mitigate coastal hazards.


4) What can you do for people who have immediate problems?

Honestly, not much. FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs were not designed to be emergency relief programs, but rather to fund well thought-out and planned projects. It usually takes a minimum of a year from the time funding is made available to the time a grant is awarded, often closer to two years or even longer. FEMA’s Public Assistance program is only available for repairing public structures and infrastructure after the state receives a federal disaster declaration. FEMA’s Individual Assistance program provides up to around $35,000 (changes annually with the CPI) to homeowners to make their homes livable when the state receives a federal disaster declaration. But the threshold for the state to receive an Individual Assistance declaration is very high, so it’s unusual that those funds are available. Homeowners are usually left to find their own funding, usually loans, if they want to do any type of shoreline protection for their property.


5) How have communities used hazard mitigation and recovery grants to address coastal resiliency?

Because FEMA only awards grants for projects they deem cost-effective, it isn’t easy to fund costly shoreline protection projects. However, like in Fox Point, if a project will protect assets that have a high value (including structures, infrastructure, utilities, etc.), it may be cost-effective. We can more easily fund projects to acquire and demolish structures at risk from coastal erosion. Additionally, as part of FEMA’s Public Assistance program, some mitigation can be incorporated into repair projects for public facilities when we receive a federal disaster declaration.

November 11, 2020
By Kayla Wandsnider, Coastal Resilience Project Assistant, Wisconsin Sea Grant