June 6, 2014
By James Schwab, AICP
Manager, Hazards Planning Research Center, American Planning Association
There is a simple way to find out just how serious a priority hazard mitigation may be in your community. Can you find it in your comprehensive plan? If not, you already have a signal that, even if your community has adopted a local hazard mitigation plan under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, a requirement for eligibility for federal hazard mitigation grants, the emergency managers and planners may not be talking to each other or sharing perspectives to ensure effective implementation. A great deal of hazard mitigation requires attention to how hazards interact with land use. The question does not end there. There are actually many possible elements in the local comprehensive plan that may have a bearing on hazard mitigation—transportation, housing, economic development, even historic preservation. It is important that the planning process identify and address these issues and identify ways to address them.
Several years ago, the American Planning Association undertook a project with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify and promote best practices in integrating hazard mitigation into all aspects of the local planning process, including visioning and plan making, but also implementation, development review, and capital improvements programming. The result, published in 2010, was Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning (PAS Report No. 560). The report includes six case studies from across the U.S., with two each involving large, intermediate, and small jurisdictions. That distribution was intended to demonstrate that the concept was not only for those jurisdictions with the largest resources. The report discusses federal statutes and frameworks for supporting hazard mitigation, but made clear that ultimately effective integration was up to the states and local government.
About ten of those states actually require some type of hazards-related element in local comprehensive plans, such as the safety element in California general plans. A few states, like California and Florida, have put some significant effort into promoting the integration of hazard mitigation into the planning process. More recently, FEMA has been producing national and regional guidance to further promote the concept and share additional case studies in successful integration.
The next frontier may be to effectively integrate climate change considerations into hazard mitigation planning, which may require some new types of expertise among planners and emergency managers. But integrated hazard mitigation planning is an excellent starting point for communities that want to get serious about their hazards.
James Schwab, AICP, is the manager of APA’s Hazards Planning Research Center. He is the project manager for “Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery: Next Generation,” a new version of PAS Report No. 483/484 (1998) on disaster recovery. He represents APA in the NOAA Digital Coast Partnership, is a frequent speaker on hazards issues, and often represents APA in federal agency program development with regard to hazards. Mr. Schwab will be speaking at the AGU 2014 Science Policy Conference on June 17th.