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Federal Disaster Policy: Toward a More Resilient Future

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Winter 2015   


        Federal Disaster Policy: Toward a More Resilient Future
        The Research Basis for Disaster Resilience
        Preparing for the Next Disaster: Three Models of Building Resilient Communities

Federal Disaster Policy: Toward a More Resilient Future


      • The need to promote resilience in federal disaster policies has become more urgent in the wake of increasingly frequent natural disasters, rapid urbanization, climate change, and globalization.
      • The government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the recovery following the disaster offered important lessons for improving disaster resilience and have helped shift federal disaster policy toward a more proactive approach, as evidenced in the response to Superstorm Sandy.
      • Disaster recovery offers people an opportunity to rebuild for resilience while they are still highly sensitive to their vulnerability. Programs such as the Rebuild by Design competition and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities promote promising resilience practices.

Aerial view of houses partially submerged in flood water from Hurricane Katrina.
The devastating consequences of Hurricane Katrina led to a sweeping reassessment of federal disaster policy. Photo courtesy: FEMA/ Liz Roll
In recent years, the concept of resilience has emerged as a centerpiece of federal disaster policy. As defined by Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, resilience is “the capacity of any entity — an individual, a community, an organization, or a natural system — to prepare for disruptions, to recover from shocks and stresses, and to adapt and grow from a disruptive experience.”1 Resilience is relevant to a wide range of sudden disruptions, including terrorist attacks, epidemics, and financial crises, and of chronic stresses such as endemic poverty and unemployment. The concept has been applied to disasters — in particular, in response to several very destructive and costly recent events — and to the growing consensus that extreme weather events will become more severe and frequent in the future.2 Broadly conceptualized, resilience applies to physical, social, and economic dimensions; people, buildings, transportation systems, and social networks, for example, can all be more or less resilient to disruptions. Achieving greater resilience is a collective effort, as Susan Cutter writes in the preface to Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative: “Disaster resilience is everyone’s business and is a shared responsibility among citizens, the private sector, and government.”3

Disaster resilience is a matter of federal policy because communities call on the federal government to assist response and recovery efforts when major disasters and catastrophes strike. From 2010 to 2013, there were 289 presidential major disaster declarations and 59 emergency declarations — instances in which a state or tribal government requested federal aid and the president determined that the severity and magnitude of the disaster warranted federal assistance.4 The declaration of a major disaster initiates long-term federal disaster aid programs, and the declaration of an emergency provides for a more limited intervention to meet a specific immediate need or to prevent a disaster from occurring, with each type of declaration helping communities in proportion to their needs.5 These federal programs increasingly are designed not just to restore communities to predisaster conditions but to rebuild them better and stronger than before so that they can better withstand future disasters.

A house severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy caused widespread damage to the Northeast shoreline, highlighting the need to improve coastal resilience. Photo courtesy: FEMA/U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released
This article focuses on how the federal government has incorporated resilience into disaster policy and how it is fostering resilience at the regional, local, and individual levels. For individuals, federal programs promote an awareness of potential risks and encourage mitigation measures such as raising a home located in a floodplain. At the community and regional levels, federal policies provide funding for planning, mitigation, and reconstruction of housing and infrastructure, primarily through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. As communities recover from disasters, they have an opportunity to rebuild in ways that make them more resilient. Although the heightened sense of vulnerability and influx of funds (and, in some cases, the need for large-scale redevelopment) that follow a disaster may offer communities a unique opening for such rebuilding, communities that have not experienced a disaster also have an opportunity to incorporate resilience into everyday spending and land-use decisions. In recent years, federal policies have encouraged, incentivized, and facilitated the adoption of resilience principles into disaster recovery and local planning and development.

The Growing Need for Resilience

In the past decade, a number of factors — lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a cluster of severe natural disasters around the world, and emerging evidence regarding the implications of climate change — have contributed to broad reassessment and recasting of federal disaster policies. Among the current trends and themes in these policies are efforts of federal agencies to collaborate and coordinate their fragmented disaster programs and funding streams, an emphasis on aligning federal resources with local rebuilding visions based on inclusive community input, improved coordination among federal, state, and local governments as well as their private-sector and nonprofit partners, fostering innovative solutions through competition, and obtaining and using better disaster-related data. Federal, state, and local policies are also moving from reactive responses to proactive ones, ranging from stockpiling emergency supplies before a disaster strikes to predisaster mitigation planning, building local disaster response capacity, and improving disaster resilience.

Rodin writes that the need for resilience has become more pressing in light of rapid urbanization, climate change, and globalization. Although disaster resilience is a matter of concern for rural and urban populations alike, the concentrations of people and physical structures of cities are more vulnerable to hazards.6 Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans along with a wide swath of the Gulf Coast and caused an estimated 1,833 deaths and $125 billion in economic costs (in 2005 dollars), and Hurricane Sandy, which caused at least 159 deaths and damaged more than 650,000 homes and hundreds of thousands of businesses in several Northeast cities, raised public awareness of the need to improve resilience, especially in coastal cities.7 Reviewing available evidence, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force concluded that “[w]hile scientific evidence does not yet tell us definitively whether storms like Sandy are growing more common, evidence indicates climate change is already altering environmental conditions in a way that suggests there may be changes in the frequency, intensity, duration, and timing of future extreme meteorological events, which may lead to unprecedented extreme weather events.” Among the specific concerns is the rise in global sea levels, because it increases flood risk in highly populated coastal areas, but threats associated with climate change affect all areas of the country.8 In addition to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes, disasters that are less visible and dramatic but no less destructive, such as drought and prolonged heat waves, threaten lives, damage property, and disrupt the normal social and economic functioning of communities.9

A house located on a slightly raised area is protected from flood waters.
Homeowner mitigation efforts protected this Cameron Parish, Louisiana home from flooding associated with Hurricane Ike in 2008. Photo courtesy: FEMA/Calvin Tolleson
Resource scarcity adds further urgency to mitigation and resilience efforts. Public costs associated with disaster response and recovery are staggering; the Center for American Progress reports that the federal government spent $136 billion on disaster relief from fiscal year 2011 to 2013.10 The potential exists, however, to reduce these costs through prudent investment in mitigation measures. The Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that for every $1 spent on mitigation, society saves $4 in future losses.11 Another possible way to realize public savings is to encourage individuals to assume more responsibility for disaster-related risk. The challenge for policymakers is to provide needed assistance without creating a disincentive for households to take responsibility for planning, mitigation, and risk; even in high-risk areas, residents tend not to voluntarily invest in loss prevention.12 For example, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created in 1968 to encourage residents of flood-prone areas to purchase flood insurance. NFIP subsidized coverage to fill a gap in the private insurance market because private insurers feared that a single flood event could exceed their reserves.13 NFIP itself has sustained substantial losses because premium rates did not accurately reflect risk. Ongoing reform of NFIP seeks to strike a balance between protecting taxpayers through risk-based pricing and keeping policies affordable for property owners.14 Yet increasing the number of households that carry policies is critical to facilitating recovery; evidence shows that households with insurance coverage are more likely to be able to rebuild following a disaster and to do so more quickly than those without insurance.15

A Shift in Federal Disaster Policy: From Katrina to Sandy

A house is elevated on stilts to protect from flood damage in West Creek, New Jersey.
Rebuilt following Hurricane Irene to meet base flood elevation standards, this West Creek, New Jersey home sustained very little damage from Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy: FEMA/Rosanna Arias
The combination of the four hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne) that hit Florida and other states in 2004 and the three (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma) that struck the Gulf Coast the following year was a turning point in U.S. disaster policy, says Jan Opper, former HUD Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Disaster Policy and Management. Hurricane Katrina, in particular, became a focal point.16 With the federal response widely considered to be a failure, Katrina spurred changes in law and practice. Aspects of the post-Katrina response and recovery, including the evacuation of New Orleans, the vulnerability of specific populations, and the effectiveness of housing recovery programs, offer important lessons for improving disaster resilience and have helped shift federal disaster policy toward a more proactive approach.

In some respects, the evacuation of New Orleans was a remarkable feat, with an estimated 1 to 1.2 million people leaving the city by car. The evacuation, however, was a glaring failure in one respect: 70,000 people, including some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, were left behind.17 Those who remained were endangered by the breakdown of the levee system, which caused massive flooding over large swaths of the city.18 These experiences highlight the importance of physical infrastructure — in this case, transportation and flood mitigation systems — in helping cities withstand and recover from disaster.

Katrina and its resulting desperation, desolation, and dislocation also brought into stark relief the intersection of natural disasters, human social systems, and the built environment.19 The storm and subsequent flooding dramatically and tragically exposed longstanding patterns of inequality that left some populations more vulnerable than others to the consequences of disaster.20 Disparities in access to resources, social capital and networks, and political power, as well as cultural differences along race and class lines, resulted in inequities in residents’ exposure to Katrina-related hazards and in their ability to withstand and recover from these hazards.21 Race and class affected many response and recovery decisions and outcomes, from the ability or willingness of lower-income and minority residents to evacuate to their capacity to relocate or rebuild.22 Elliot and Pais find, for example, that “net of other factors, blacks outside the city [of New Orleans] were 1.5 times more likely than similar whites to evacuate after, rather than before, the storm,” and Fussell et al. find that black residents returned to New Orleans more slowly than did white residents, largely because of disparities in housing damage.23 A year after the storm, only 48.5 percent of black evacuees had returned to their residences compared with 73.2 percent of white evacuees.24 Other especially vulnerable groups included domestic violence victims in shelters, children in foster care, and seniors in nursing homes and hospitals; approximately half of the people who died in Louisiana as a result of Katrina were aged 75 or older.25 Among the lessons learned in response to such disparities is the need for greater understanding of the relationship between social vulnerability and disaster.26 Another lesson evident in the recovery process was the importance of restoring social networks and incorporating community engagement. Widespread community involvement proved an important aspect of resilience; research finds that recovery from Katrina was faster and more effective in New Orleans neighborhoods that took initiative, mobilizing to shape and participate in recovery with broad inclusion of previously excluded or disadvantaged groups.27

Within the broader scope of recovery activities, University of California at Berkeley department of architecture professor Mary Comerio says that “housing recovery is critical,” especially for “urban concentrations of housing loss” and especially for low- and moderate-income residents.28 Research shows that attachment to place, and thus the ability to remain in or quickly return to one’s home, is an essential component of community disaster resilience.29 FEMA grants for home repairs, U.S. Small Business Administration loans of up to $200,000 for repair and rebuilding, and the state-designed programs funded by CDBG-DR, along with NFIP, constitute the core federal programs for permanent housing recovery.30 After Katrina, the two major CDBG-DR programs were Louisiana’s Road Home program and Mississippi’s Homeowner Assistance Program. Some residents used the assistance to rebuild, whereas others relocated. Both rebuilding (when it incorporates structural mitigation) and relocation (when it removes residents from high-risk areas) can improve a community’s resilience to future disasters.

Many of the lessons learned from Katrina have informed subsequent policy. The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 directed the president to establish a national preparedness goal and a national preparedness system.31 Since Katrina, the federal government has replaced the National Response Plan that guided the Katrina response with a National Response Framework. The framework, which was released in 2008 and revised in 2013, became one of the five National Planning Frameworks of the National Preparedness System.32 Another of the five frameworks, the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), was released in September 2011 and also incorporates major lessons from Katrina into a revised approach. NDRF is sensitive to the need to ensure that recovery is equitable; does not discriminate; and addresses emotional, social, and financial needs in addition to physical restoration and rebuilding. NDRF encourages local predisaster planning and preparedness and recommends that state and local governments designate Local Disaster Recovery Managers. Finally, NDRF explicitly recognizes “that there is opportunity within recovery,” including the opportunity to enhance sustainability and resilience in pre- and postdisaster planning and recovery.33

The first large-scale test of NDRF, and an opportunity to implement the lessons of Katrina, was Hurricane Sandy. Soon after the storm, President Obama created the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force by executive order, naming HUD’s then-Secretary Shaun Donovan as its chair. Directed to provide cabinet-level leadership over rebuilding in conjunction with the NDRF, the task force was an acknowledgment of past deficiencies in interagency coordination and the need for resilient rebuilding immediately after the disaster.34 The task force united the efforts of 24 executive departments, agencies, and offices to create the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, which included 69 recommendations aimed at aligning federal funding with local rebuilding priorities, fostering a regional approach to rebuilding, and improving resilience to accommodate climate change.

A road circling a Colorado subdivision separates houses from fire damaged land.
This Colorado neighborhood’s outer road, which doubles as a fire barrier, protected these homes from wildfires in 2009. FEMA/Michael Rieger
The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force provided guidance on how best to spend federal funds (appropriated through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013) to support effective long-term recovery for a more resilient future, “working hand-in-hand with communities to help them rebuild smarter and better by providing the best data about the risks they face, setting clear resilience standards to help protect against those risks, and bringing a wide range of stakeholders together to foster innovative ideas and ensure a comprehensive regional approach to rebuilding.”35 Among the task force’s recommendations are the development of a sea level rise projection tool, a smarter electrical grid and liquid fuel supply chain, and reforms to NFIP.36 The task force articulated two main infrastructure goals: coordinated efforts toward quick and effective recovery and investments in making systems more resilient against future disasters.37 For housing, HUD used the Disaster Housing Assistance Program to issue rental payments to landlords to provide housing for displaced families and, through the Federal Housing Administration, worked with a New Jersey Community Development Financial Institution on a program that allows homeowners to remain in their homes while making repairs.38

In the year following Sandy’s landfall, $10.4 billion in CDBG-DR funds had been allocated, with 26,000 households helped through housing programs; more than $74 million in FEMA Hazard Mitigation grants had been awarded; $7.9 billion had been paid on more than 143,000 NFIP claims (more than 99% of those filed); and 97 percent of public beaches from New Jersey through Connecticut reopened by Memorial Day 2013.39 Department of Homeland Security Inspector General audits of FEMA’s initial response to Sandy in New York and New Jersey concluded that the agency was effective and efficient, highlighting the agency’s proactive preparation and effective coordination.40 As response transitioned to recovery, the states of New York and New Jersey, New York City, and other grantees made resilience — “building back better and smarter” — a key principle guiding their CDBG-DR spending, including improvements to transportation infrastructure, a home buyout program to encourage the resilient redevelopment of high-risk coastal areas, and various homeowner assistance programs.41 Despite lessons learned from Katrina, Grand Forks (see “Preparing for the Next Disaster: Three Models of Building Resilient Communities”), and other disasters, implementing these programs has presented new challenges and lessons. The New York City Department of Investigation concluded that the city’s Build it Back program, which was funded through CDBG-DR, set up an overly complex and onerous application process that created significant delays in disbursing assistance, and state-administered programs also encountered difficulties and delays.42 “The process isn’t working” when it comes to housing recovery assistance, says Comerio. “It’s too long, it’s too slow. We really have a ways to go to think about how we resolve housing recovery issues.”43 Ongoing evaluation of these programs may reveal best practices for future improvement.

Building Resilience Into Disaster Recovery and Predisaster Planning

This rendering depicts an aerial view of New Meadowlands, a winning Rebuild By Design proposal.
This rendering depicts New Meadowlands, a winning Rebuild by Design proposal, which aims to provide flood protection and recreational amenities with a system of berms and marshes. The proposal includes transportation elements to improve the connectivity of the wetland and surrounding towns. Photo courtesy: MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN, courtesy of Rebuild by Design
The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force noted that Sandy had revealed that the coastal areas of the Northeast had large concentrations of people and infrastructure at high risk of storm damage and that hazard mitigation was needed to reduce that risk and better protect against future storms.44 Adding to the urgency of such efforts is the emerging knowledge regarding climate change and its associated threats. Recognizing these threats, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force sought to ensure that as the affected communities began the long and arduous work of recovery, they did not simply rebuild but instead rebuilt “smarter and better,” incorporating resilience into recovery. The task force fostered innovative regional approaches to resilient rebuilding by bringing stakeholders together, providing them with reliable data on their risks and vulnerabilities, and setting resilience standards to mitigate those risks.45 Plyer and Ortiz note that customized, accessible data are in high demand immediately following a disaster because officials must make numerous response and recovery decisions in conditions that are often chaotic. “Having an established data intermediary with a sound technical platform and community-oriented mission in place before a disaster strikes,” they argue, “enhances the resilience capacity of a region to meet the myriad and acute data needs that will arise after a disaster.”46 Following Katrina, researchers found that mapping risk factors along with additional data such as social and economic information was highly useful. These tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are essential to planning for sustainable and resilient rebuilding.47 Because lower-income communities are disproportionately affected by disasters, a better understanding of the relationship between the geographies of hazard risks and the geographies of social and economic vulnerabilities is especially vital.48

To further encourage collaborative, innovative, and regional approaches to resilient rebuilding in the Sandy-affected region, the task force launched a multistage design competition, Rebuild by Design, in June 2013.49 Ten interdisciplinary teams were selected from 148 applicants to participate in a research phase that incorporated community outreach and analysis of the critical challenges facing the region. The teams ultimately developed 10 proof of concept plans, from which 6 were chosen to receive CDBG-DR funding (along with additional public and private funding sources) for implementation.50 The winning proposals, including the “Living Breakwaters” project — a series of sloped walls off Staten Island’s south shore that will provide habitats for sea life and dissipate wave energy hazards — embody the goals of sustainable, resilient rebuilding.51 Although Rebuild by Design encouraged designs tailored to a specific regional context, the ideas that the competition generated may be replicated elsewhere, inspire other ideas, and promote increased emphasis on disaster resilience in planning and development policy and practice nationwide. 52 Research indicates that when states require localities to “plan and manage development with hazard mitigation in mind, property losses are strikingly lower.”53

Disaster recovery offers an opportunity for people to rebuild for resilience in a place and time in which they are highly sensitive to their vulnerability. The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, particularly through its Rebuild by Design competition, underscored the importance of integrating resilience into recovery early in the process. Resilience, however, is just as important in disaster preparedness as it is in disaster recovery. As an attribute of a place akin to available amenities or resources, a community’s resilience has value for its residents and businesses. To encourage localities to become more resilient, HUD has announced a National Disaster Resilience Competition open to 67 eligible applicants including 48 of 50 states (all but Nevada and South Carolina), the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 17 local jurisdictions that are recovering from presidentially declared disasters that occurred between 2011 and 2013. Applicants will compete for CDBG-DR awards totaling $1 billion.54

The competition is intended to have an impact that extends far beyond the benefits of the winning projects; through it, HUD aims to change the way that state and local actors think about spending and planning decisions. “The big money is not the billion dollars, it’s the many billions that localities are spending every day on water and sewer, on roads and bridges, on schools and housing, [and] on utility infrastructure,” says Harriet Tregoning, director of HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience. Most localities spend that money without considering how easily those investments might increase resilience. The hope for the competition is that whether or not applicants ultimately receive a grant, they will use the intentionally long initial phase to examine risks and vulnerabilities (with funding and technical assistance available in some cases) and emerge with a new way of thinking about how resilience can be incorporated into their goals and spending. In addition to the competition, HUD is investigating ways to use technical assistance and core programs (such as CDBG and HOME) as well as its other assets to advance resilience.55

Nongovernmental organizations are also promoting resilience through initiatives such as 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) and Smart Growth America’s State Resilience Program. In December 2013, 100RC selected 32 cities to receive financial, logistical, and expert support, including resources to establish the position of Chief Resilience Officer within municipal governments. This position is designed to foster coordinated efforts across government departments and to incorporate a resilience approach into all of the activities local governments carry out each day. A second group of cities was added in December 2014, building a network of member cities that are then connected to partner organizations to share their knowledge and experience. The initiative emphasizes resilience both to sudden shocks, such as natural disasters, and to constant stresses, such as inadequate public transportation systems or high unemployment, through a city resilience framework.56 The framework addresses four dimensions of resilience — health and well-being, economy and society, infrastructure and environment, and leadership and strategy — and identifies three areas of activity for cities to pursue to advance each dimension.57 The city of Norfolk, Virginia, one of the first 100RC member cities, is working to improve resilience through flood mitigation. A coastal city that has long faced flood threats, Norfolk is becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding because of rising sea levels. Through a collaborative process that encouraged resident input, the city has developed a flood strategy as part of a broader coastal resilience strategy. The approach includes flood preparation efforts, such as encouraging residents to elevate homes, appliances, and utilities and purchase flood insurance; flood mitigation, including reclaiming and reconstructing wetlands and raising roads; and plans for future infrastructure projects. Although not all of the proposed projects have been funded, the resilience strategy has the potential to guide future investment toward such projects.58

Smart Growth America’s recently launched State Resilience Program provides resources for local leaders who are positioned to incorporate resilience principles and goals into land use and infrastructure decisions among other activities of state governments and over which state governments have influence.59 Smart Growth America hosts a web-based clearinghouse for relevant resources and in October 2014 convened the State Resilience and Economic Growth Summit, allowing state and federal leaders and policy experts to exchange knowledge and share best practices.60 State governments are in a position to designate CDBG-DR funds for resilience planning. The state of Colorado, for example, awards grants through a Resilience Planning and Capacity Building Program.61 Boulder County, an awardee that sustained flood damage in September 2013, is funding a temporary floodplain permitting specialist to help implement floodplain planning and postflood activities as the county pursues its goal of “building back stronger and more resilient than before.”62

Promising Practices in Disaster Resilience

As both the 100RC and Smart Growth America State Resilience program recognize, developing and sharing best practices will be helpful as local governments (in some cases working together at a regional level) seek to adopt and implement resilience frameworks and planning. Because the concept of disaster resilience is relatively young and has only recently become an organizing principle of disaster policy and practice, the evidence base regarding best practices for implementing resilience at the local level is still emerging. O’Hare and White argue that despite its ubiquity in academic and policy disaster discourse, resilience has developed neither “certainty regarding its definition nor… agreement regarding its application through policy and practice.”63 Nevertheless, building from experience, research on mitigation and sustainability, and the growing field of disaster resilience, characteristics of resilient communities and factors that facilitate resilience and its adoption can be identified.

Cutter et al. note that “there is consensus within the research community that resilience is a multifaceted concept, which includes social, economic, institutional, infrastructural, ecological, and community elements.”64 Cutter et al., Norris et al., Arup International Development, and other researchers have developed frameworks for measuring resilience that identify consensus characteristics of resilient communities and regions across these categories.65 Although, as Kulig et al. point out, it is difficult to “differentiate indicators of resilience from the various resources that contribute to it,” these indicators point to areas that communities should focus on to assess and improve resilience.66 Generally, the indicators and resilient practices identified by these frameworks apply broadly, although it should be noted that they were developed based on specific geographic regions, and consideration of local contexts is important for implementation.67

  • Communities need to have a realistic understanding of their risks, vulnerabilities, and resilience capacity, and information regarding threats and capacities should be made available to all stakeholders.68 For both planners and households, relevant and accurate data such as vulnerability maps are essential for developing resilience.69 For example, research finds that public information activities are associated with reductions in flood loss.70
  • Planning and mitigation reduce disaster losses and increase resilience.71 In the short term, the existence of a disaster response plan that gives communities the flexibility to act in the immediate aftermath of an event increases the community’s ability to quickly bounce back.72 Over the long term, Burby et al. conclude, “[c]ommunities with a coherent land-use plan and hazard-mitigation strategy are able to build settlements that will be resistant to natural disasters, able to recover quickly from a natural event, and able to last for many years with little cost in dollars or lives to their inhabitants.”73 Studies on the effectiveness of specific mitigation measures can point to practices that can make communities more resilient by addressing corresponding risks and vulnerabilities.74
  • Resilience frameworks should take a holistic or comprehensive approach.75 Communities can enhance their resilience when they consider the ways that various social, economic, and physical systems interact. For example, physical infrastructure and attributes such as walkability and connectivity that have resilience implications of their own also affect resilience through their effects on social networks. McIlwain et al. conclude that “social connectivity and the ability of residents to assist each other are critical for survival and rebounding during and after natural disasters.”76
  • Meaningful and democratic community involvement in resilience and mitigation processes increases community support and builds the social capital that is characteristic of resilient communities.77 Shared long-term networks and community identity, trust, and other factors that foster social cohesion strengthen community disaster resilience.78 Research finds that similar social capital characteristics are important for forming and sustaining the public-private partnerships that develop disaster resilient communities.79
  • Addressing social and economic vulnerabilities strengthens disaster resilience. Cutter et al. suggest that communities with greater educational equity; better access to vehicles, telephones, and health insurance, among other resources; and greater economic diversity (not dependent on a few sectors or resources) have higher levels of disaster resilience.80 As Norris et al. put it, “communities must develop economic resources, reduce risk and resource inequities, and attend to their areas of greatest social vulnerability.”81
  • Evidence is also emerging on which factors may promote the adoption of best practices. Ashley D. Ross, professor of political science at Sam Houston State University, surveyed county emergency managers throughout the Gulf Coast about how they understood and practiced resilience.82 Ross finds that institutional aspects of resilience such as planning and zoning are stronger in counties with past disaster experience and with higher levels of resources available to emergency management offices, such as additional staff members. Ross says, “Those communities that exhibited more resilience had a grassroots effort to collectively organize,” reinforcing findings on the importance of democratic community involvement and Cutter’s contention that “[p]olitical will and strong leadership are essential … to building resilience at any level.”83

    Disaster and Opportunity

    Disaster recovery in affected areas and predisaster mitigation planning offer an opportunity to create a more resilient future, building communities that are better able to withstand and rebound from disasters. Furthermore, pursuing resilience can offer multiple benefits. Tregoning notes that “whether it’s a stronger economy, more diversified employment, more opportunity for low- and moderate-income residents, or innovation and competitiveness, all of those things can be supported by investments in resilience and vice versa.”84 For example, instead of building a levee, a community could build a waterfront park to offer the same flood protection as a levee but with the added benefits of recreational amenities for residents and a reduction in the urban heat island effect. In the context of scarce public resources, appropriations of disaster recovery funding may in fact offer the best opportunity to pursue such goals. Although the ability to mitigate future threats from disaster has limits, when disaster resilience includes sober assessments and appropriate responses to limits and challenges, communities can become safer and smarter places, even in the face of increasingly frequent and severe disasters.85

    Related Information:

    History of Federal Disaster Policy

    1. Judith Rodin. 2014. The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs Books, 3.
    2. Rodin, 5; Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. 2013. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: Stronger Communities, A Resilient Region, 33.
    3. Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, The National Academies. 2012. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, vii.
    4. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Disaster Declarations by Year” ( Accessed 9 October 2014. Note that this count may reflect multiple declarations (one for each affected jurisdiction) related to the same disaster.
    5. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “The Disaster Process & Disaster Aid Programs” ( Accessed 24 November 2014.
    6. Rodin, 4.
    7. National Climatic Data Center. n.d. “Billion-Dollar U.S. Weather/Climate Disasters, 1980–2013.” Accessed 23 September 2014; Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, 13.
    8. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, 33.
    9. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Climate Change Indicators in the United States” ( Accessed 22 December 2014.
    10. Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman. 2013. “Disastrous Spending: Federal Disaster-Relief Expenditures Rise amid More Extreme Weather,” Center for American Progress.
    11. Multihazard Mitigation Council. 2005. “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities, Volume
      1 – Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations,” National Institute of Building Sciences, iii.
    12. Howard Kunreuther. 2006. “Disaster Mitigation and Insurance: Learning from Katrina,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 604:1,
    13. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2002. “National Flood Insurance Program: Program Description,” 1–2.
    14. U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2013. High Risk Series: An Update. Washington, DC: GAO, 17, 261–3.
    15. Jennifer Turnham, Kimberly Burnett, Carlos Martin, Tom McCall, Randall Juras, and Jonathan Spader. 2011. Housing Recovery on the Gulf Coast, Phase II: Results of Property Owner Survey in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, xii; Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps. 2010. The Measure of America 2010–2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience. New York University Press, 196.
    16. Interview with Jan Opper, October 2014.
    17. Martha Derthick. 2007. “Where Federalism Didn’t Fail,” Public Administration Review 67:S1, 38.
    18. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2006. Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast: Mitigation Assessment Team Report, 8–3.
    19. Shannon Van Zandt, Walter Gillis Peacock, Dustin W. Henry, Himanshu Grover, Wesley E. Highfield, and Samuel D. Brody. 2012. “Mapping Social Vulnerability to Enhance Housing and Neighborhood Resilience,” Housing Policy Debate 22:1, 29.
    20. Kathleen Tierney. 2008. “Hurricane Katrina: Catastrophic Impacts and Alarming Lessons,” in Risking House and Home: Disasters, Cities, Public Policy, John M. Quigley and Larry A. Rosenthal, eds. Berkeley Public Policy Press, 127.
    21. Susan L. Cutter, Christopher T. Emrich, Jerry T. Mitchell, Bryan J. Boruff, Melanie Gall, Mathew C. Schmidtlein, Christopher G. Burton, and Ginni Melton. 2006. “The Long Road Home: Race, Class, and Recovery from Hurricane Katrina,” Environment 48:2, 11–2; James R. Elliott and Jeremy Pais. 2006. “Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social Differences in Human Responses to Disaster,” Social Science Research 35:2, 317–8.
    22. Elijah Anderson. 2006. “Inadequate Responses, Limited Expectations,” in Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 193–4.
    23. Elliot and Pais, 308; Elizabeth Fussell, Narayan Sastry, and Mark VanLandingham. 2010. “Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Return Migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina,” Population and Environment 31:1–3, 20.
    24. Jeffrey A. Groen and Anne E. Polivka. 2008. “Hurricane Katrina Evacuees: Who they Are, Where they Are, and How they Are Faring,Monthly Labor Review 32:3, 44.
    25. Richard J. Gelles. 2006. “The Lost and Forgotten,” in Birch and Wachter, eds., 217; Joan Brunkard, Gonza Namulanda, and Raoult Ratard. 2008. “Research: Hurricane Katrina Deaths, Louisiana, 2005,Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness 2:4, 215.
    26. Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter. 2006. “Introduction: Rebuilding Urban Places,” in Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, 9.
    27. Frederick Weil. 2011. “Rise of Community Organizations, Citizen Engagement, and New Institutions,” in Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, Amy Liu, Roland V. Anglin, Richard M. Mizelle Jr., and Allison Plyer, eds. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 216.
    28. Interview with Mary Comerio, September 2014.
    29. Robin S. Cox and Karen-Marie Elah Perry. 2011. “Like a Fish Out of Water: Reconsidering Disaster Recovery and the Role of Place and Social Capital in Community Disaster Resilience,” American Journal of Community Psychology 48:(3–4), 396.
    30. Jeffrey Lubell. 2006. “Housing Displaced Families,” in Birch and Wachter, eds., 176.
    31. Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, 2006, Pub. L. 109–295.
    32. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “National Response Framework” ( Accessed 12 December
      2014; U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “National Planning Frameworks” ( Accessed 12 December 2014.
    33. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2011. National Disaster Recovery Framework: Strengthening Disaster Recovery for the Nation. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2–5, 9, 25.
    34. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, 13.
    35. Ibid., 3; 30–1.
    36. Ibid., 14–6.
    37. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, 49.
    38. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. 2014. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: Progress Update – Spring 2014. Washington, DC, 10–1.
    39. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2013. “Hurricane Sandy: Recovery Efforts One Year Later.”
    40. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. 2013. “FEMA’s Initial Response in New York to Hurricane Sandy”; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. 2013. “FEMA’s Initial Response in New Jersey to Hurricane Sandy.”
    41. New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Office of Community Renewal. 2013. “State of New York Action Plan for Community Development Block Grant Program Disaster Recovery,” Office of Community Renewal, 4, 34, 40; New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. 2013. “Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan,” 4–6; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2013. “Allocations, Common Application, Waivers, and Alternative Requirements for Grantees Receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery Funds in Response to Hurricane Sandy,” Federal Register 78:43, 14333.
    42. The City of New York, Department of Investigation. 2014. “DOI Monitorship of New York City Build it Back Program — Status Report”; Melissa L. Finucane, Noreen Clancy, Henry H. Willis, and Debra Knopman. 2014. “The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force’s Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines: An Initial Assessment of Implementation by Federal Agencies,” Rand Corporation, 39–41; Shaun Donovan. 2014. Written testimony, “Superstorm Sandy Recovery: Ensuring Strong Coordination among Federal, State, and Local Stakeholders: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, United States Senate, 7.
    43. Interview with Mary Comerio.
    44. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force 2013, 129.
    45. Ibid., 3.
    46. Allison Plyer and Elaine Ortiz. 2011. “Building Data Capacity to Foster Resilient Communities,” in Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, 187–8.
    47. Frederick Steiner, Barbara Faga, James Sipes, and Robert Yaro. 2006. “Mapping for Sustainable Resilience,” in Birch and Wachter, eds., 67, 74–5.
    48. Vicki Been and Ingrid Gould Ellen. “Social Vulnerability and Disaster Planning,” Rebuild by Design Research Advisory Group Reports. Accessed 7 October 2014; Van Zandt et al., 30–1.
    49. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force 2013, 44.
    50. "What Is Rebuild by Design?" Rebuild by Design website ( Accessed 10 October 2014; “Winners Announced for Rebuild by Design Competition,” Rebuild by Design website ( Accessed 10 October 2014.
    51. “Living Breakwaters,” Rebuild by Design website ( Accessed 10 October 2014.
    52. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force 2013, 44; 47.
    53. Raymond J. Burby, Arthur C. Nelson, and Thomas W. Sanchez. 2006. “The Problems of Containment and the Promise of Planning,” in Birch and Wachter, eds., 47.
    54. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2014. “National Disaster Resilience Competition.
    55. Interview with Harriet Tregoning, October 2014.
    56. “About Us,” 100 Resilient Cities Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation website ( Accessed 2 December 2014; Michael Berkowitz. 2014. “What a Chief Resilience Officer Does,” 100 Resilient Cities Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation website ( Accessed 2 December 2014.
    57. “City Resilience,” 100 Resilient Cities Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation website ( Accessed 2 December 2014.
    58. City of Norfolk. n.d. “Coastal Resilience Strategy,” 7–9.
    59. Smart Growth America. “State Resilience” ( Accessed 2 December 2014.
    60. Smart Growth America. “State Resilience and Economic Growth Summit” ( Accessed 2 December 2014.
    61. State of Colorado, Department of Local Affairs. “Resilience Planning and Capacity Building” ( Accessed 5 December 2014.
    62. Colorado Department of Local Affairs. 2014. “CDBG-DR Colorado Resilience Planning Grant Program Awarded Projects”; Boulder County, Colorado. “Boulder County Flood Recovery” ( Accessed 8 December 2014.
    63. Paul O’Hare and Iain White. 2013. “Deconstructing Resilience: Lessons from Planning Practice,” Planning, Practice & Research 28:3, 275.
    64. Susan L. Cutter, Christopher G. Burton, and Christopher T. Emrich. 2010. “Disaster Resilience Indicators for Benchmarking Baseline Conditions,” Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management 7:1, 6.
    65. Fran H. Norris, Susan P. Stevens, Betty Pfefferbaum, Karen F. Wyche, and Rose L. Pfefferbaum. 2008. “Community Resilience as a Metaphor, Theory, Set of Capacities, and Strategy for Disaster Resilience,” American Journal of Community Psychology 41: 1–2; Jo da Silva and Braulio Morera. 2014. City Resilience Index: City Resilience Framework. Ove Arup & Partners International Limited.
    66. Judith C. Kulig, Dana S. Edge, Ivan Townshend, Nancy Lightfoot, and William Reimer. 2013. “Community Resiliency: Emerging Theoretical Insights,” Journal of Community Psychology 41:6, 763.
    67. Tim G. Frazier, Courtney M. Thompson, Ray J. Dezzani, and Danielle Butsick. 2013. “Spatial and Temporal Quantification of Resilience at the Community Scale,” Applied Geography 42, 95.
    68. Chris D. Poland. 2010. “Commentary on Building Disaster Resilient Communities,” Journal of Disaster Research 5:2, 194; John McIlwain, Molly Simpson, and Sara Hammerschmidt. 2014. Housing in America: Integrating Housing, Health, and Resilience in a Changing Environment. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute, 25; Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, vii; 2.
    69. Plyer and Ortiz.
    70. Wesley E. Highfield, Samuel D. Brody, and Russell Blessing. 2014. “Measuring the Impact of Mitigation Activities on Flood Loss Reduction at the Parcel Level: The Case of the Clear Creek Watershed on the Upper Texas Coast,” Natural Hazards 74:2, 701–2.
    71. Cutter et al. 2010, 8–9.
    72. Poland, 194.
    73. Raymond J. Burby, Robert E. Deyle, David R. Godschalk, and Robert B. Olshansky. 2000. “Creating Hazard Resilient Communities Through Land-Use Planning,” Natural Hazards Review 1:2, 104.
    74. Highfield, Brody, and Blessing, 687.
    75. Poland, 196.
    76. McIlwain, Simpson, and Hammerschmidt, 26.
    77. Norris et al., 143.
    78. Paul Kadetz. 2014. “New Orleans: A Lesson in Post-Disaster Resilience,” Forced Migration Review (45): 61; Cutter et al. 2010, 9.
    79. Justine Chen, Ted Hsuan Yun Chen, Ilan Vertinsky, Lilia Yumagulova, and Chansoo Park. 2013. “Public-Private Partnerships for the Development of Disaster Resilient Communities,” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 21:3, 140–1.
    80. Cutter et al. 2010, 8.
    81. Norris et al., 143.
    82. Ashley D. Ross. 2014. Local Disaster Resilience: Administrative and Political Perspectives. New York: Routledge.
    83. Interview with Ashley D. Ross, December 2014; Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, vii.
    84. Interview with Harriet Tregoning.
    85. Robert Giegengack and Kenneth R. Foster. 2006. “Physical Constraints on Reconstructing New Orleans,” in Birch and Wachter, eds., 13.


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