Disaster Resilience Strategies

Once the recovery ideas—or disaster resilience strategies—are identified, the community will need to explore them through a systematic process in order to decide on the best disaster resilience strategies, select feasible tools, locate
technical assistance, formulate details, plan for action, find funding, get approval, and move toward implementation.

How are the disaster resilience strategies suggested above–and others that local planners and decision makers brainstorm— carried out? Developing and implementing a hazard mitigation plan is probably the best way a community can reduce its vulnerability to natural disasters.

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Disaster Resilience Strategies

In addition, a hazard mitigation plan should:

  • Be linked with land use plans, subdivision regulations, building codes, stormwater management plans, and the capital improvement plan. The capital improvement plan could include a strategy to protect public facilities from disruptions, for example through seismic retrofitting of public buildings such as schools or fire departments.
  • Anticipate all hazards faced by the community, such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, high winds, and wildfires.
  • Address multiple objectives in order to incorporate other principles of sustainability, such as creating a more livable community, protecting open space or wildlife habitat, enhancing economic vitality, and promoting social equity, and providing for future generations. For example, buyout programs in Arnold, Missouri, and Darlington, Wisconsin, took buildings out of the path of floods and used the resulting open space to
    connect their river corridors to existing greenways and trail systems (Schwab, 1998). Care should be taken that mitigation actions do not undermine other aspects of sustainability, thus detracting from the community’s “holistic recovery.”
  • Focus on the long term. The plan should reduce risks for the future, rather than simply return the community to pre-disaster condition.
  • Be internally consistent. That is, reducing risk to one type of natural hazard should not increase risks to others. For example, elevating homes to reduce their vulnerability to floods may make them more susceptible to earthquake damage. These factors need to be weighed so that overall risk is reduced, for the long term.

Disaster Resilience StrategiesDisaster Resilience Strategies – Building Strategies During the 10-Step Recovery Process

Even if the community does not have or create a formal hazard mitigation plan, strategies for disaster resilience can be carried out in the context of the overall disaster recovery and emergency planning guidelines. Within the 10-step process, the following activities in particular will help ensure that
disaster resilience is improved during a community’s disaster recovery.

Disaster Resilience Strategy Step 4, Assessing the hazard problems.

To reduce the risk of natural hazards, a community will need to determine its present and future susceptibility by conducting a vulnerability assessment. Vulnerability is a measure of the risk or likelihood of various types and strengths of hazards occurring in the area, and the amount and quality of development in that area.

Assessing a community’s vulnerability involves identifying areas of greatest risk, conducting an inventory of those areas, putting these areas on a map, identifying existing policies that may reduce vulnerability, and setting priorities for action. These procedures are summarized below.

First, identify the hazards that threaten the community (e.g., floods, earthquakes, wildfires) and prepare a map delineating the vulnerable areas. Is the community subject to frequent flooding or hurricanes? Are earthquakes common? Which areas suffer the most? Some of these areas may already have been mapped. For example, Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) delineating floodplains are available for most communities under the NFIP. Identifying and mapping the areas that are most vulnerable can help guide policies and prioritize mitigation actions.

Identifying future areas of risk is more problematic. Boundaries of hazard-prone areas can change over time. For example, an increase in the amount of impervious surfaces (roads, driveways, parking lots) in a watershed could lead to increased storm water runoff, which in turn could cause flooding in areas formerly considered outside the floodplain. Use current growth or land use patterns to predict how boundaries of hazard-prone areas might change over time.

Second, conduct an inventory of people and properties in vulnerable areas. Estimate the number of people and buildings, and the value of those buildings, located in the hazard-prone areas, and the number of people and buildings that will be there in the future if current growth and land use patterns remain unchanged. The Community Rating System of the NFIP gives points for an assessment of the impact of flooding on a community if it includes an inventory of the number and types of buildings subject to the hazards identified in the hazards assessment.

Third, prepare a map showing areas and facilities at risk. Highlight on the map the areas of highest risk and the critical facilities, major employers, repetitively damaged structures, and infrastructure in those areas. Particularly vulnerable neighborhoods and facilities, such as a low income neighborhood or a housing facility for senior citizens, should be identified. Areas prone to flooding that are not included on the FIRM should be marked on the map. Areas subject to other hazards should also be identified. Maps can identify boundaries of natural hazard areas such as floodplains and pinpoint the location of vulnerable buildings or facilities.

Disaster Resilience Strategy Step 5, Evaluating the problems.

Use this window of opportunity to analyze policies, programs, and ordinances that may affect vulnerability. A community’s existing policies and programs may, either intentionally or not, increase or decrease its vulnerability to natural hazards. Use the Matrix of Opportunities as a starting point to examine whether continuing those policies in the recovery period will worsen vulnerability, or whether changes can be made to minimize future risks. For example, extending water and sewer lines into floodplains will encourage development in those areas, while a plan for a greenway or open space in earthquake fault zones could preclude development there.

Communities should identify current policies that weaken hazard mitigation efforts and those that strengthen them, including land use plans and regulations, subdivision regulations, open space policies, transportation plans, and stormwater management plans. In addition, a community should identify areas where new policies are needed to reduce current and future risks of hazards.

Disaster Resilience Strategy Step 6, Setting goals and objectives.

Once it has identified and inventoried vulnerable areas and determined whether existing policies will increase or decrease vulnerability to natural hazards, a community can begin to set goals based on priorities for mitigating the threats posed by such hazards. The priorities should be based on the other principles of sustainability as well as upon traditional criteria such as cost effectiveness (number of people, houses, or jobs protected per dollar invested), savings in tax revenues, and whether the action will achieve multiple objectives. Again, mitigation measures should not be adopted in isolation. All the risks to which the community is susceptible, and all the principles of sustainability, should be considered before goals and objectives are set. This prevents mitigation actions from undermining other aspects of a holistic recovery, and vice versa.

Disaster Resilience Strategy Step 7, Exploring all alternative strategies.

Use multi-objective mitigation to link with other aspects of the community recovery. Consider all of the sustainability principles in the formulation of recovery plans for mitigating hazards. Consolidate economic, social equity, quality of life, and environmental perspectives.

Choose from the opportunities identified under Step 5, the goals and objectives set in Step 6, and the options and tools. Expand and tailor them to meet a community’s concerns. Be sure that the potential impacts of each alternative on other aspects of sustainability within the community are analyzed.

Disaster Resilience Strategy Step 10, Implement, evaluate, and revise.

Some ways to monitor and evaluate disaster resilience strategies are discussed in the next section.