Disaster Planning

Integrating the concept of resilience into disaster planning can help communities prepare for a range of hazards. After a disaster, communities can rebuild with a greater level of resilience for future conditions.

The challenges posed by climate change are significantly altering the types and magnitudes of hazards and vulnerabilities that communities, emergency management professionals, and planners face today. In light of the range of multi-hazard risks and location-specific vulnerabilities, emergency managers may need to simultaneously respond to disasters and support preparedness efforts through comprehensive planning.

While universal resilience to all potential disasters is not possible, integrated planning can help communities consider how they might recover and rebuild from a disaster with a greater level of resilience in the future. In some cases, communities have limited capacity for promoting resilience—yet the effort to plan for disaster can raise their awareness of tools and options that can also build their resilience. 

A "Whole Community" approach 

Emergencies and disasters vary in size, magnitude, complexity, and scope. While our changing climate can trigger more frequent emergencies at the local level, it can also wreak havoc on major metropolitan areas or across entire regions.

Planning for a disaster encompasses the four cornerstones of emergency management: (i) preparedness; (ii) response; (iii) recovery; and (iv) mitigation. This planning cycle is most effective when all stakeholders agree on the objectives and nature of resilience. The ability of a community to overcome the effects of an emergency or disaster starts with the capabilities of the local residents and government officials. 

Planners acknowledge that a government-centric approach to emergency management is not enough to meet the challenges posed by a singular catastrophic event or by a series of events initiated or exacerbated by climate change. "Whole Community" is an approach to emergency management that reinforces the fact that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is only one part of our nation’s emergency management team. The approach encourages communities to leverage all of the resources available in preparing for, protecting against, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating against all hazards, and to acknowledge that all stakeholders must work together to meet the needs of the entire community in each of these areas.

A collective emergency management team includes FEMA and its partners at the federal level; local, tribal, state, and territorial partners; non-governmental organizations, such as non-profit groups and private sector industries; and the individuals, families, and communities who serve as first responders during a disaster. Both the composition of a community and the individual needs of community members—regardless of age, economics, or accessibility requirements—must be accounted for when planning and implementing disaster strategies.

First responders gather flood victims on airboat

Local first responders use an airboat to transport people to safety following flooding during August 2007 in Oklahoma.

When a community is engaged in an authentic dialogue, it can identify its needs and the resources available to address them. Collectively, the community can determine the best ways to organize and strengthen their assets, capacities, and interests to address potential hazards.

A fundamental aspect of resilience is to not only have a plan for recovery, but to ensure that it mitigates the intial risk and simultaneously builds protection from collateral hazards, including physical and social infrastructure.

Community resilience capacity

While most actions to improve community resilience capacity occur at the local level, a range of federal programs provide resources to support these efforts across the nation.

Federal agencies need to gauge the effectiveness of their individual and collective efforts to build national-scale community resilience capacity, but the availability of local-scale data for tracking this capacity is very limited. A consistent framework for community resilience indicators could help guide the development of useful measures, promote the identification and sharing of relevant data, and facilitate the collection of new data needed to fill critical information gaps.

An overarching goal of preparedness and disaster planning is to develop consistent benchmarks, metrics, and performance criteria for assessing the validation of selected resilience strategies. The critical challenge in the future will be to develop planning mechanisms that have the ability to accommodate new scientific data, community preferences, and changing environments that will challenge the dependency paths of our resilience investments.

Whether developing innovative hazard mitigation for physical infrastructure or building social capacity for community infrastructure, the common ambition of disaster planning efforts is to achieve stability in the face of disasters.

While no one can plan for all disasters, resilience planning represents an opportunity to develop adaptive capacities with co-benefits that can address a variety of social, economic, and environmental stresses. The resilience planning process can also spark a community to develop the innovation necessary for unprecedented change—including the potential for natural and human disasters—brought on by climate change.

This section contains text that is excerpted, edited, and abridged from the following sources:

Banner Image Credit: 
Spc. Joseph Davis, U.S. Army. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Last modified: 
30 August 2016 - 2:04pm