Guide to Start-up of the HMDR Interest Group

Interest Group of the American Planning Association – Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning [rev 8-18-14] Guide to start-up of the HMDR Interest Group PREFACE This document is about the […]

Interest Group of the American Planning Association – Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning [rev 8-18-14]

Guide to start-up of the HMDR Interest Group


This document is about the organization of a new interest group of professionals wishing to be involved with two closely related urban planning specialties, natural hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. It will operate as an Internet-based discussion group within the protocols of the American Planning Association. Portions of this Guide are expected to evolve into foundation elements and help form a conceptual framework on the group’s website.

Mitigation and disasters are two sides of the same coin: preventing and fixing: 1) if we can lessen future damage by careful mitigation we have easier recovery work when a disaster strikes, 2) during recovery we have the most opportune time to rebuild more safely, optimizing mitigation via both structural and non-structural solutions.

In the US and elsewhere, natural disasters take a significant toll in human life, injury, economic disruption and physical damage costing billions of dollars annually. Man-made disasters are also a significant risk resulting from environmental crises or terrorism. Research points to many opportunities to improve our techniques for mitigating disasters and helping with recovery afterward. Urban and regional planners have an important role in both. Public impressions and policy studies point to the same consensus: America needs to do more. APA and other organizations address the challenge on many fronts, yet the task is large and complex. This draft Guide is structured to help planners define the very broad scope in which we must view, understand, discuss and deliberate mitigation and recovery policy choices, tactics and strategies. The goal is to find ways for our collective knowledge base to be maximized and allow our work to be most effective.

While planners working for communities, regions, states and national agencies often hold key responsibilities for pre-disaster mitigation and post-disaster recovery, we do not have an exclusive domain. Many other professionals share the obligations. Therein lies the complexity of this work. The Guide attempts to describe the interactions and relationships of other contributors and also identify the unique capacity offered by urban and regional planners. While we may feel an intuitive understanding that communities benefit from planning, it is not inherently clear to other professionals what we offer in matters of mitigation and disaster recovery. These are also evolving topics and changing relationships over time, for both professional organizations and government agencies. Attention to disasters is increasing. Climate change, global warming, sea level rise and environmental hazards have accelerated the pace in recent decades. This Guide and the Interest Group are thus about a process, not a defined solution.

1. Introduction

Note to reviewers:  This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to describe the framework of the Internet blog and its connection to this new interest group. Although comprised mostly of factual statements, this section should be edited to fully reflect the preferred manner for introducing this website to the full membership of the interest group, other members of APA, other collaborating professions, and the general public.

1.1 Interest Group Website

This new interest group of the American Planning Association is titled Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery, abbreviated HMDR Interest Group. Initial governance is via a four-member Executive Committee assisted by a 20-member Advisory Group. An Internet website is organized as a discussion and repository of information and is the primary means by which the interest group will communicate among members, outside of annual meetings at the American Planning Association’s National Conference. This approach is consistent with the provisions of APA for the establishment of interest groups.

1.2 Structure of this Section –Table of Contents

This guide to interest group start-up is organized in six parts:

1. Introduction

2. What and Why? – The purpose of this Internet Group

3. Where and With Whom? – Planners, Risk Management, Mitigation

4. When and How? – APA Processes

5. How to Collaborate? – Terminology and Definitions of Planning

6. APA’s Analysis – Guidelines for Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery

1.3 Mechanism for Consensus

The website pages in this section are presented as drafts for discussion.   These information pieces are written to:

  • provide a starting point, designed to evolve and be re-written by reviewers serving on the Executive Committee and Advisory Group
  • describe concepts and features for involving urban and regional planners with hazard mitigation and disaster recovery, leading to techniques in which principles of the planning profession are tailored for these specialized purposes
  • evolve into building blocks and organizing principles for this Interest Group, shaped by consensus processes similar to the Internet’s Wikipedia

1.4 Topical Discussions to Build Knowledge Base

This website is designed as a repository of resources for planners and other professionals engaged in hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. Over time, the archived discussions will also contribute part of the collective knowledge base, complementing information resources in document files and links to files elsewhere. Three kinds of links are provided: 1) to documents in other online repositories, 2) to related professional organizations and their Internet discussions, and 3) links to bibliographies and literature searches developed by others, referencing information in both printed and online form.

1.5 Seeking Balance

Many planners and interest group members are members of multiple organizations outside of APA. A principal role of the Executive Committee and the Advisory Group is to oversee the connections between this interest group and the other entities to promote cooperation and understanding but to do so in a balanced way. The challenge is to become more disciplined than a discussion group where a few participants might dominate the debate and promote narrow viewpoints. Broad representation in the profession is the goal, leaving room for dissention and minority viewpoints. Specialization from companion groups is recognized and supported. In its current form, this HMDR website prominently features links to other organizations, particularly APA itself and the Hazards Planning Research Center. Other links include the Natural Hazards Mitigation Association, Association of State Floodplain Managers, NFPA’s Firewise and the Association of Watershed and Stormwater Professionals, plus a number of university based research and federal agencies concerned with mitigation and disasters.

1.6 Content Team Established

Most contributions to the website will be in the form of comments by group members. There is an initial “content team” invited to be actively involved in blog operations. This should be a subject also of the Advisory Group, particularly  members with special interests in enhancing the website. The goal is to assure balance and accuracy in site content, recognizing that it is both an open discourse and our means of strengthening the professional coalition. While the expectation is that the HMDR group will reach APA Division status as soon as APA prerequisites are achieved, the website is likely to remain an important channel for the future, even after a Division is formed.  Many members of the interest group have strong affiliations to hazard mitigation planning and disaster recovery but are not members of APA.  The interest group is an essential means to advance this broader collaboration with engineers, architects, landscape architects and the related professions.  Very valuable contributions are offered by APA members and non-members alike at the LinkedIn discussion forum of HMDR, for example.

1.7 Repository Functions of Website

A major benefit of this website will be its function as a repository of documents and references. This is its library mission, and probably will include a mix of links and actual document files. Also included is a “best practices” section for the blog page structure. We also have available two kinds of outside sources: First is the set of websites established by APA interest groups such as Sustainable Communities.  Second is the diverse set operated by professional compatriots in the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), Natural Hazards Mitigation Association (NHMA), Smart Coast and others.

1.8 Organizational Options that Fit Planning Agencies

The following sections attempt to describe the complexity and diversity of planning agencies into which the mitigation and recovery functions may be placed both pre- and post-disaster. Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 delve into the nature of planning departments and their traditional program areas. The dominant theme of these descriptions is to illustrate the potentially significant linkage of urban and regional planning to the realms of hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Community level mitigation takes many forms in urban systems, both physical and social, only one of which applies to natural hazards. Hazard mitigation policy is an apt companion to all urban policy, valid for transportation, housing, utility systems and the like. Implementation of hazard mitigation is akin to other programs of cities and counties.

1.9 Seeking Key Relationships between Mitigation and Planning

As a foundation for this interest group, only key relationships between mitigation and planning need to be identified, not all. The material in this section attempts to list a broad range of relationships, from which all reviewers can select elements suitable for the open portion of the website. Comments on each item may be in these categories, for example:

__ delete

__ revise: ___________

__ replace by substituting _____________

__ hold for future consideration

1.10 What is an APA interest group?

In the structure of the American Planning Association, interest groups are informal gatherings of APA members and others using the Internet for their respective discussion forums. Compared to the more formal groups known as Divisions, these interest groups are intended to be more casual and are not mandated to have a governing structure. As described in the History section, (2.1) below, a proposal to establish an APA Division was put forth in 2007. APA may in the future decide to establish a Division for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery but one of the prerequisites is that participants function first as an interest group for a period of at least one year before submitting a petition to form a new Division. Another option offered by APA is to form a Section which is a sub-unit of a Division. However, due to the breadth of professional diversity in Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery, no existing Division is likely to be a suitable host for an HMDR Section. (See also, 4.1, below.)

1.11 Scope of this Review

The goal of this draft guide is to establish a conceptual framework for the interest group and its blog. Decisions about actual content are proposed for a later stage, including input from a “Content Team.” Future sections of the blog will contain information of direct use to practitioners. Such future information will need to be guided by a strategy not yet determined. For example, a practitioner may seek information about how to apply for HMGP funds, or where to find techniques to address streambank erosion, or species selection for safely landscaping a home in a canyon with high risk of wildfire. The structure of the Internet site needs to reflect policies from the Executive Committee and the Advisory Group as to how such inquiries will be dispatched. While there can be discussion of such details on the website, each of these examples may be better directed to authoritative sources such as NFPA’s Firewise, ASFPM, FEMA’s listing of best practices or resources on the NHMA website. This guide to establishment of the HMDR Interest Group does not attempt to address that issue. Rather, it suggests a goal of creating collaborative approaches with other organizations. How to effectively orchestrate that collaboration in day-to-day operation of the website is an important future discussion.

2. What and Why? The Purpose of this Interest Group

Note to reviewers:This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to describe how the interest group was formed. This section should be edited to be sure it corresponds with a consensus of reviewers ideas of how the group and its Internet website will move forward, particularly in relation to the original 2007 proposal for formation of a “Division,” and the 2014 petition now circulating online with requests for members to login with their APA member ID and password at APA’s site and support the petition, agreeing to join the Division once formed.  This is the hyperlink to support the petition:

2.1 History of HMDR Establishment

For many years, planners interested in hazard mitigation and disaster recovery have met informally at the National Conference of the American Planning Association to share interests and discuss formation of a special member group on this topic. In 2007 a committee of the group developed a written proposal and gathered petitions to form an APA Division. The goal was to further these initiatives in a more formal manner, primarily to share information, build a knowledge base and collaborate in matters of policy development. Unfortunately, the group’s proposal reached the APA Board of Directors at a time it was rethinking APA’s whole approach to Divisions, and thus the idea was put on hold. Subsequently the APA Board adopted new procedures in this regard, requiring a phased approach that would demonstrate for at least one year that there is adequate support among a sufficient number of APA members to sustain the administrative obligations of a Division. This Internet website is the central mechanism to host operations of the interest group during the requisite demonstration period and beyond.

2.2 Planners and Mitigation Programming

Planners are frequently called upon to advise cities, counties, regions, states and federal agencies concerning risk reduction and disaster recovery. Policies and programs at all government levels have evolved mitigation strategies closely tied to the principles of urban and regional planning. Representing planners nationwide, APA has played a key role in research, analysis and strategies tied to wiser development, pre-disaster mitigation, and pre-event planning for post-disaster recovery. In addition, APA has provided planning assistance to communities after disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, plus involvement with international agencies in disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. Also, many members of APA have contended directly with disasters in their respective communities, especially the planning challenges that accompany these events, while others serve as academic researchers or consultants.

2.3 Opportunities for Improvement

Planners and their professional alliance organizations, principally APA and its member groups, have the potential to foster improved cooperation on these connected topics, hazards and disasters. Major benefits can be achieved through better information sharing on this subject among professional planners. This interest group can help planners:

A) contribute more to the nation’s natural hazard risk reduction strategies;

B) collaborate with specialists in fields such as floodplain regulation, wildfire protection, seismic construction standards and emergency management; and

C) help our respective communities, regions and states develop and implement sound pre- and post-disaster risk reduction and disaster recovery plans.

More specifically, the 2007 committee of interested planners set forth an analysis outlined below in its proposal to the APA Board: (summarized from the Proposal memo dated July 20, 2007)

  1. Meaningful pre-disaster planning can significantly reduce future losses and result in a more effective and sustainable recovery.
  2. Post-disaster planning can help guide the rebuilding effort in a manner that not only reduces future losses, but improves the overall quality of life for a community’s inhabitants.
  3. Surveys of emergency managers show support for land use planning as the most effective approach for long-term reduction of community vulnerability from multiple hazards.
  4. Damages from natural hazards—including floods, wildfire, earthquakes and landslides—can be minimized in communities where local comprehensive plans have considered these potential impacts.
  5. There is a recognized need among planning practitioners for development of increased professional knowledge linking disaster mitigation and recovery planning with comprehensive planning and day-to-day implementation in codes, ordinances and programs.
  6. Surveys show that many communities are neglecting to incorporate natural hazard considerations into local or regional plans.
  7. Professional planners have indicated they will welcome a greater emphasis on natural hazards in local plans and programs.
  8. APA has played an important role in hazards research and policy development but it lacks an organization within its membership for direct emphasis on this subject, leaving an unrealized potential for planners to participate optimally in natural hazards management.

2.4 Associating with Parallel Organizations

In this context, how does an APA-connected interest group organize itself in recognition of the other significant players? How do planners facilitate the involvement of engineers, architects, geo-scientists and program specialists? If there is general consensus that planning agencies tend to give insufficient attention to hazard mitigation, an answer may be to promote interdisciplinary inclusion. Specifically, linkages are needed to members of our sister organizations such as the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the National Hazard Mitigation Association and the Firewise program of the National Fire Protection Association. In practice, the whole realm of “building safety” and the disciplines of structural engineering, architecture and geo-scientists must be incorporated as partners if there is to be successful mitigation of risks such as floods, earthquakes, windstorms and landslides.

2.5 Interest Group of Open Diversity

Under procedures of the American Planning Association, interest groups are open to non-APA members. There are no eligibility requirements. It is likely the HMDR group will attract participation from a number of non-planners practitioners who work in diverse positions holding responsibility for hazard identification, mitigation and disaster recovery. This could be a worthwhile mission of the HMDR interest group.

2.6 Structure of Website for Special Interests

As a first step toward inclusiveness, the structure of this website, the organization of blog pages, is intended to fit the categories matching the disciplines and their specialties. These are also reasonable categories suited to planners’ interests:

1. Mitigation and Planning Strategies

2. Post-disaster Recovery Planning

3. Codes and Standards for Resiliency

4. Organizational Arrangements of this Interest Group

5. News and Miscellaneous

In the nature of Internet groups, discussion threads will develop spontaneously, run their course, and be archived for future retrieval when needed. Over time, the blog categories will morph to better reflect the discussion threads, plus new trends and topics. The goal of this blog is to be organized by topic rather than chronology of the discussion. Topics will be searchable, with less emphasis on whether a piece of information is from a recent post or older material. Concurrently, specialized discussion threads will emerge within “sister” organizations such as ASFPM. Optional cross-posting among these similar blogs will promote further collaboration. These are likely to be seen by APA members and others as positive and cooperative outcomes, more as opportunities than problems or institutional rivalry.

3. Where and With Whom? Planners, risk management, mitigation

Note to reviewers:  This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to describe the context within which planners tackle hazard mitigation and disaster recovery assignments. Emphasis is placed on organizational arrangements typically found in city and county planning departments, and especially their work programs. These descriptions should be carefully edited to represent the diversity of agencies while stressing the relevance of planners’ suitability for these assignments.

3.1 Planning for Risk

The field of urban and regional planning has many practitioners who routinely address policy matters involving risks from natural and manmade causes. States, regions and communities strive to be resilient and safe. Damages from natural and manmade causes require governments to expend substantial sums in response to immediate needs, and then financing long-term recovery. Opportunities for cost avoidance are significant through well conceived mitigation strategies, thus consistent with goals of good management, efficient public services and protection of infrastructure, both private and public. Planning departments in these governments have opportunities to help with disaster preparedness and short-term responses, but especially with mitigation and long-term recovery.

3.2 Collaboration among functions

As described below, these efforts involve collaboration with departments such as public safety and emergency management, including functions such as police, fire protection, ambulance services. Needs assessments and policy development are inherent functions of planning agencies at all levels—community, region, state, national—and for which mitigation is a logical, efficient and justifiable component of hazards strategy. The logic is strong; there is an obvious business case in favor of mitigation investments. Research has shown that thoughtful hazard mitigation is good planning. Thoughtful disaster recovery planning is good management.

3.3 Planning Private-Sector Mitigation and Preparedness

Mitigation attentiveness is also a sound practice for businesses. For the larger community, economic disruption, loss of employment, loss of customers and ultimately the failure of businesses can be among a community’s most damaging effects of a disaster. Actions to minimize damages can allow economic systems to remain viable or return more quickly to normal, also avoiding secondary and tertiary setbacks. A community’s mitigation policies benefit from private-sector business continuity plans in which managers of local firms practice preparedness for alternate power sources, communications and data protection in resilient structures. Combined, these initiatives fit within the general realm of planning for economic development, job retention and joint endeavors with their partner organizations such as chambers of commerce or manufacturing associations. Collaboration between business and government can help achieve both public and private objectives for loss avoidance. Strong and sustainable concepts of business preparedness are most likely to succeed if they are linked to established organizations such as economic development partnerships and business groups. Such groups typically maintain strategic alliances with cities and counties and their respective operating units for planning, building, infrastructure, public safety and emergency management. Effective comprehensive community planning strategies often incorporate these private sector alliances.

3.4 Collaboration for emergencies and mitigation

Institutional arrangements for community planning and hazard mitigation are well established. At the local government level, partnerships between planners and personnel within operating units are commonplace, such as departments of public works, utilities, transportation, public safety and facilities management—all of whom have potential roles in hazard identification and mitigation, just as they do with the comprehensive plan. Collaboration also occurs routinely with executive functions such as budget, finance, administration and risk management, all of which oversee components of a multi-hazard program. Regulatory functions designed to accomplish plan implementation are typically performed within or shared with departments administering standards in building construction, environmental quality, environmental health and housing. In some communities, risk management and insurance strategies are operated with a comprehensive view of financial and legal consideration of revenue sources, capital investment and bond ratings, thus strengthening the rationale for integrated planning and mitigation activities.

3.5 Attending to what is broken

The general term “community development” often refers to intervention in targeted urban areas suffering blight or deterioration and where there is significant dysfunction in social and economic systems, high rates of poverty and joblessness. Post-disaster recovery planning is closely related to traditional community development initiatives such as revitalization, enterprise zones, housing rehabilitation, land assembly and neighborhood reinvestment. These circumstances are parallel in all kinds of natural disasters: wildfire, flood, wind, landslide or earthquake. Similarities also exist with man-made events such as environmental crises, terrorism or economic turmoil and job loss, where vulnerability analysis, hardening, preparedness and mitigation concepts are used to ameliorate negative consequences. Disasters in some cases offer “silver linings” where new redevelopment opportunities appear because old infrastructure has been destroyed or where obsolete buildings can be replaced and land parcels configured to work better. Reconfiguration becomes an option when the community is significantly damaged and where the prior land use patterns were outmoded, contributing to economic and social decline. New redevelopment prospects are often bolstered by special post-disaster support such as grants, loans and technical assistance. In order to capitalize on such opportunities, a planning process must be in place, using systematic analysis and inventories of at-risk neighborhoods, giving an organized picture or blueprint of needed community improvements, new systems and upgrades that yield social and economic benefits, as well as better chances for long-term sustainability. In some locations rehabilitation and historic preservation are the primary strategies to reverse decline. The role of urban and regional planners in all such matters is clear, and their transition into disaster recovery can be straightforward. In many instances, Congress appropriates extra funding to help disaster recovery using HUD’s Community Development Block Grant framework, adding the term “Disaster Recovery” into the title: CDBG-DR. For communities unfamiliar with CDBG programs, the transition can be difficult. In some jurisdictions, legacy CDBG program administration is operated outside the planning department, placed in the domain of financial administration, overseen by non-planner program specialists. In all cases, CDBG economic initiatives such as micro-loans and workforce development are operated in concert with other federal programs such as the Small Business Administration, Economic Development Administration, and US Department of Agriculture. In very large disasters, Congress often appropriates disaster recovery funds through these agencies, as well.

3.6 Organization of Remedy Oriented Programs

As noted above, strategies of community development often rely on diverse federal programs for additional support, including HUD, EPA, USDA and Commerce:

  • In post-disaster circumstances, these somewhat conventional programs are typically retooled to energize disaster recovery.
  • Mitigation and redevelopment principles are inherent in community and regional planning programs to address concerns such as noise, air pollution, water pollution, traffic, natural systems degradation, economic distress, blight, neighborhood decay and conflicts between land uses.
  • Similarities among mitigation remedies cross over various risk categories, with structural solutions, development policy, economic diversification, commercial revitalization, workforce improvement, problem avoidance and preparedness, all accomplished through investments, incentives, regulations and public-private partnerships.

In spite of general applicability of “intervention” techniques widely used by the planning profession, there are no uniform principles to guide this crucial retooling in the event of a disaster. Fragmentation is not uncommon. In extreme cases, the pre-disaster lack of collaboration between these planning specialties renders the community ill prepared to muster urgently needed resources for planning recovery.

3.7 Professional Skills Overlap

Professional capacity in programs related to mitigation has parallel features in many disciplines. Similarities exist in both natural and manmade systems. Planning agencies routinely employ similar analytical and procedural tools—however the organizational structures vary significantly. Interagency divisions of responsibility tend to be unique in regions made up of city, county and metropolitan planning departments. The framework of these arrangements substantially affects the pattern of staff resources available for disaster recovery. In the transportation realm, Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality (CMAQ) is mandated by federal agencies, involving DOT, EPA and others, where principles of measurement, scientific analysis, statistical methods, alternatives assessment, and policy frameworks are essentially similar to study of natural hazards and risk management to minimize damage and promote community resiliency. In all cases, comparisons of costs and benefits are key. Decision-making routines seeking optimum effect are promoted, whether for floodplain management, stream quality management or traffic management, all based on analytic methods and quantitative analysis.

3.8 Leadership, budgets and policy development

Community planning is a function that exists also in an administrative context. The shape and extent of a planning department’s work program is determined by executive and legislative budgeting and allocation of personnel resources. The decision to create a mitigation plan is an economic one, prompted by the perceived opportunities to reduce risk and avoid costs. Such rationale is ubiquitous in public policy, practiced routinely in subjects other than natural hazards. Undertaking mitigation initiatives implies a multi-department collaboration, with support for segments of each participating staff group. Oversight remains an executive and legislative concern, where program evaluations, formal or informal, regularly review the accomplishments and benefits derived. Standardization among programs is uncommon, and there are few mandates to drive a long-term mitigation commitment in most cities, counties and regions. When a disaster strikes, the evidence often reveals insufficient attention to pre-disaster mitigation or weakness in administrative arrangements such as enforcement of floodplain regulations.

3.8 Program Development

Public administrators and elected officials routinely scrutinize proposals for new programs. In the annual budget process, existing programs are similarly examined. Special attention is paid to mechanisms that assure coordination among work groups to avoid overlaps, duplication of effort or other inefficiencies. Hazard mitigation and disaster recovery have a high degree of multi-department involvement. Because of this inherent complexity, these programs face higher potential for organizational conflict as well as stronger executive mandates for inter-departmental collaboration. Program development within communities and regions brings the conventional planning department into contact with other professionals. In one view, the comprehensive plan is an organizing influence for diverse elements such as housing, transportation, economic development and land use. Companion elements in the comprehensive plan may include capital improvement programming and housing strategies. In all cases, involvement by emergency managers is essential for mitigation and recovery program development.

3.9 NFIP as Specialized Planning Program

Although limited to flood risks, the National Flood Insurance Program is significant to the professional work of many urban and regional planners, both in public agencies and private consultants. NFIP is essentially a mandate for risk awareness in community plans and development regulations. In most communities, planners are given responsibility for NFIP compliance, subject to federal audit reviews and inclusion of appropriate floodplain controls in zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, site plan reviews and building codes. NFIP also functions as a mechanism to encourage coordination and force compliance with building codes, site plan reviews and construction permits to achieve greater floodplain safety. For communities participating in the Community Rating System of NFIP, additional planning objectives apply, with broader stormwater management concepts linked to development policy.

3.10 Stormwater and Wetland Strategies

Typical regulatory companions to NFIP and CRS are wetland protection mandates of the Clean Water Act, administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers and its Section 408 process. Community planning agencies are often assigned to develop wetlands management and stormwater plans, followed by regulations implemented through grading and fill permits tied to zoning, building and subdivision reviews.

3.11 Regional Planning Strategies

The scope of the interest group is generally directed to local governments and their planning departments where mitigation and disaster recovery are most likely to be carried out. Planning also occurs at a broader scale, as in NOAA’s Digital Coast efforts or in state-level planning such as Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Program, a multi-billion dollar and multi-decade endeavor in which the planning profession was significantly involved. Future iterations of the interest group’s website can add special sections to address national, state and regional planning programs of this type.

3.12 Multi-hazard Specialties and Resources

States with special mitigation concerns such as earthquakes, landslides, subsidence, wildfires and coastal protection include these risk management or resource standards as mandates for community planning. In some cases they become new required elements for comprehensive plans. Thus, in certain states, urban and regional planners have significant obligations to consider additional multi-hazard mitigation factors in their communities, or in the case of planning consultants, their clients in the private and public sectors. Some risk categories are typically excluded from property insurance coverage, further complicating the recovery scenarios and giving additional justification for mitigation investments.

3.13 Professional partners: Cohesion of Interests

A wide range of disciplines and interests are represented by professionals involved in hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Engineers and geo-scientists often join urban and regional planners to craft mitigation strategies and disaster recovery plans. Planner specialties include environmental analysis, economic development, transportation and community development, each with prominent roles in mitigation, emergency preparedness, evacuation, redevelopment and disaster recovery. Narrow job specialization is characteristic in some cases, such as building codes, geosciences and floodplain management. Long-term disaster recovery and redevelopment are typically broader community planning assignments. Variation is also a function of time, with some professionals devoting many years of their careers to the topic while others give only a fraction of their effort to disaster policy, with episodes of intense work when disasters affect their geographic area. Data modernization, technology, modeling, simulation, visualization and information systems such as GIS are crucial planning tools for effective hazard mitigation strategies and the development of resilient plans and policies.

3.14 Emerging Concepts

If governmental initiatives for pre-disaster planning become institutionalized in grant programs and regulations, the level of this activity by professional urban and regional planners may grow substantially in the years ahead. The counter trend in some states is moving away from land use regulations and development standards. Major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina often prompt state and local officials to revisit their planning policies to consider possible enhancements.

4. When and How? APA Processes Described

Note to reviewers:  This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to describe the interface between this interest group and the larger APA organization.  The pending “Division” status for this group is cited as a potential goal. It should be edited to reflect consensus of the reviewers about steps recommended. It also merits official review by APA leadership to ensure accuracy in relation to APA’s protocols.

4.1 Organizational Options

APA has mechanisms to foster communication and learning among professionals working in specialty topic areas such as hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. The APA Board of Directors in 2009 adopted new procedures to form Interest Groups and Sections for its 42,000 members. As of 2012, APA has 20 Divisions ranging from a few hundred to 1200 members.

Interest Groups: Informal; no fees; open to anyone interested in topic; communications primarily through Internet based social networking forums such as blogs.

Section: A subset of membership within an APA Division, Sections require coordination with Division, no additional fee to belong (Division membership is $25 for APA members; $10 for APA Student Members; and $40 for non-APA members), administrative support provided through the Division, and inclusion in newsletters of the Division.

Division: A formal unit of APA; proposal to form requires a petition signed by at least 300 APA members agreeing to join the division upon formation; must reach 300 paid membership within one-year of establishment; prerequisite is at least one year prior operation as an Interest Group or Section (described above); currently divisions receive one session (by right) at the National Conference.

4.2 Operations in concert with APA

The proposed actions complement the larger aims of APA, including concepts such as comprehensive planning, sustainability, risk reduction and disaster recovery. The proposed interest group is also consistent with APA’s organizational structure and parallels interest groups formed in other topic areas. Communication within the group will follow the APA model, relying principally on the Internet, with links to APA’s website. Additional administrative arrangements will be developed as this interest group grows, including the selection of officers at a future date. This approach will likely evolve to include a proposal for APA Division status, once membership reaches eligible levels.

4.3 Governance of the Interest Group

Future governance of the interest group is not determined. Initial setup is comprised of an Executive Committee and an Advisory Group. Depending on the potential evolution toward status as an APA Division, the timing of more formal governing arrangements can be postponed. APA does not specify a mechanism for choosing leadership of an Interest Group. Informal arrangements may be sufficient in the short run, partly because there is low administrative burden without any financial obligations. APA does mandate that interest groups may not operate a budget, collect money, or have any ongoing fiduciary obligations.

4.6 Website Suitability for Planners, Specialists, Partners

Given this diversity, an APA interest group can have adaptable channels of communication among planners and non-planners via the Internet website discussions. Further, accommodation and support for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery understandings will benefit from flexible participation mechanisms. By adopting a flexible approach, the mix of participants and roles can evolve over time. The structure is intended to foster inclusion without rigid formats. For some participants, the identity of “planner” will be less likely, but “planning” is a unifying theme that promotes resiliency in cities, regions and states facing hazards. As such, APA is uniquely positioned to help organize the body of knowledge and expertise across professional disciplines. APA has a strong research agenda in hazard mitigation, utilizing the tradition of PAS reports and joint studies with ICMA, FEMA, HUD, NOAA and other organizations. Potentially a blend of involvement mechanisms will also emerge, so that professionals can choose to participate at a level best suited to their needs. This could become a two-tiered system in which full Division status would be supplemented by a less formal sub-unit operating as an “interest group,” unrestricted by membership rules or fees but facilitated by social networking tools, i.e., this Internet blog as it may evolve with specializations. In this scenario the HMDR Interest Group, its website, and APA’s general resources in the Hazards Planning Research Center offer the most effective means to encourage collaboration, information sharing and professional development

4.7 Companion Organizations

Professionals in related fields have created specialty organizations such as the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association and NFPA’s Firewise. Their ranks include urban and regional planners, many of whom are APA members. Opportunities for information sharing and collaboration will be expanded by having this companion structure—the HMDR Interest Group– within APA. Notably, state and federal agencies such as the US Forest Service also have planners on staff, some of whom concentrate on hazards and risks such as wildfires. Issues of the wildfire–urban interface are essentially land use policy questions that should link strongly to the community’s comprehensive plan and strategies of rural area public services.

5. How to Collaborate? Terminology and Definition of Planning

Strategies for Interdisciplinary Sharing; Seeing Mitigation and Disaster Recovery as a Blend of Policy and Technical Components with Many Types of Expertise.

Note to reviewers:  This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to highlight professional issues for planners and their need to collaborate outside the planning field. Due to this content, it should be subject to thorough editing. This topic may be better addressed as a statement of collaboration principles, rather than a negative listing of concerns or challenges.

5.1 The underlying planner issue: terminology

Urban and regional planners contend with competing definitions of planning in their daily work. Terms such as “land planner” or “campus planner” are common specialties in the design professions. “Policy Planner” suits many in the field, but not all. In the realm of hazard mitigation and disaster recovery, more definitions and distinctions abound. The US Army Corps of Engineers employs urban and regional planners but also features engineers as “Project Planners” where the word “Project” is often omitted, and the program becomes known within the Corps as “Planning.” In FEMA and DHS, the Incident Command System specifies a Planning Section that is in fact a record keeping and operations scheduling function. The same structure is found in many state emergency management agencies and also in the setup of county and municipal emergency departments. Complexity ensues when major FEMA initiatives such as the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) are operated within agencies that view planning from this other perspective, segregated from the mainstream urban planning functions of most communities, and seldom staffed by professionals trained in the urban and regional planning tradition.

5.2 The collaboration challenge

Elsewhere in this website (Section 3.7, above), the overlapping aspects of mitigation have been discussed. Multiple disciplines must collaborate in these matters, particularly engineering and the other design professions. Further, the programs for accomplishing hazard mitigation and disaster recovery objectives are necessarily specialized and complex. Many professionals, planners and otherwise, concentrate in these programs for a significant part of their career. The HMDR interest group is challenged to accommodate this diversity. Presumably positives will outweigh negatives of an open collaboration, while emphasizing the foundation here of urban and regional planning, and the umbrella of APA.

5.3 Collaboration Opportunities

The fields of hazard mitigation and disaster recovery are very diverse, somewhat cohesive, but with many potential benefits of improved information sharing. By offering an enhanced, multi-tiered forum for collaboration, this interest group provides an important connection. It can be a direct benefit to existing members and to their respective employing agencies and organizations. It can also be a source of growth in APA membership, an asset to APA’s research agenda and a boost to the relevance of APA in national, state and local affairs.

5.4 First Steps

  1. Initial Phase: Review by Advisory Group and Executive Committee.
  2. Scope, broad not narrow: Importantly, even within the APA membership there are diverse notions of what this topic includes, some very narrowly defined, others with more wide ranging concepts. Many signers of petitions in 2007 added suggested names for the group, and a substantial number proposed only one specialty, such as “floodplain managers” or “hazard mitigation” or “disaster recovery.” The challenge will be to promote the umbrella concept of all interrelated components.
  3. More than a meeting: One hurdle of organizing is that only a very small fraction of all interested persons actually attends the National Conference of APA, and an even smaller subset joins the group meeting or reception. Going forward, this website is proposed as the regular communication vehicle that allows “outsiders” to feel “in,” with meaningful participation.
  4. Working arrangements: The advisory group to provide overall guidance to the interest group and this website as the principal vehicle for communication. It should be low-maintenance, editorially, not requiring substantial time of advisory group members, supplemented by a Content Team attending to website enhancements and blog operations.
  5. Refining purpose and scope: Equally important to idea exchange is the potential for a blog to refine the scope of shared interests. It can be an open, democratic forum of ideas, some contributors pushing broader scope while others will favor a narrow focus. This virtual roundtable can help foster consensus of mission, an essential step in preparation for a new APA proposal in which a Section or Division can be created.
  6. Reaching beyond APA: As a courtesy and convenience, the website prominently features links to sites operated by groups such as ASFPM and NHMA. An APA Interest Group can be maintained indefinitely with no membership fees, even after a Section or Division might be formed. Hosting a website can help overcome traditional barriers to information transfer.

5.5 Gradual Rise in Program Specialties

One of the hurdles facing this interest group is due to evolution of this field. It emerges now after many years of specialties and program experience that had a more narrow focus. Many practitioners in mitigation and disaster recovery are from disciplines other than urban and regional planning. The challenge is to find new definitions, concepts and principles that the other disciplines can accept. For example, the National Flood Insurance Program has been on the front line of floodplain management for more than forty years. NFIP today affects virtually every home mortgage and every mortgage company. Program administration is complex with important regulatory decisions accumulated throughout the program’s history, where the consequence and cost of each ruling is significant. Yet NFIP and floodplain mapping are largely program management questions and regulatory matters, not strategies in the typical community’s comprehensive plan. Strategic mitigation initiatives are found in some recent and progressive comprehensive plans, including buyouts of at-risk properties and suitable redevelopment alternatives.

Similarly, in many counties and cities the federally incentivized Hazard Mitigation Plan is processed not through the agency’s planning department but instead through the emergency management or public safety unit.

Certain dimensions of mitigation will tend to have an inherent link to the principles of urban and regional planning. Examples are redevelopment, property buy-outs, and re-use strategies for acquired hazard-prone properties. Similarly, emergency management can benefit from collaboration with a city or county planning department. Transportation planning has technology and data directly applicable to evacuation planning, for example.

5.6 Tension with Site Hardening Mitigation Strategies

Across all categories of mitigation there will be a natural tension between principles of urban and regional planning versus the technical remedies on a site by site basis. The planning principle tends to advocate problem avoidance through informed decision making, to configure the community’s development plan in recognition of hazardous areas. Historically, one pioneering advocate was Ian McHarg and his overlay maps of suitability, but there were many others. Planners tend to evaluate both preservation and redevelopment options, where the latter may need to overcome many hurdles of implementation. In contrast, engineers, architects and mitigation specialists may emphasize building designs that reduce the hazards by adding strength and resilience to the structure.

5.7 Planners and other mitigation specialties

While there is almost universal consensus that urban and regional planners have a role in disaster avoidance (hazard mitigation) and disaster recovery, the organizational strategies within state and local governments are not uniform. In various federal programs, agencies such as HUD, DOT, EPA, EDA and USDA play a major role in determining both the professional field of urban and regional planning and the types of organizational structures found in counties, cities, and regional councils of government. For decades, program grants have supported agencies and facilitated their interactions among all levels of government. The concept of DOT-initiated Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) is one example. Regional wastewater studies and county-city community development consortiums are likewise enabled by EPA and HUD, respectively. Transportation planning is somewhat parallel to flood mitigation because of the disciplines involved, particularly engineers and planners, but also by the significant influence of program specialists. Similarly, city planning departments and public works departments have shared roles. Hazard mitigation has an additional complexity due to the involvement of emergency management agencies. While the matter tends to be resolved in fields such as transportation planning, with hazard mitigation there is no pre-eminent model with universal acceptance. In the former case, numerous technical sub-fields are recognized, such as environmental specialists. Over time, as programs develop procedural requirements and grant eligibility standards, program specialists play larger roles in matters such as transit operating subsidies. The parallel in flood mitigation is NFIP program administration. In establishing this APA interest group, the goal is to recognize potential involvement of both planners and non-planners in all dimensions of this general topic. Collaboration is essential because the realm is not held exclusively as the domain of urban and regional planners. Yet planners with broad perspectives of development policy, community involvement, natural systems, governmental structure and strategic planning tend to have significant knowledge to apply in their respective jurisdictions or, in the case of consultants, to their clients. These established roles and credentials are recognized by federal agencies, elected officials and professional managers, and they are institutionalized as job descriptions, program staffing standards and systems of capacity building via training and information transfer initiatives, e.g., Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, part of the National Academies.

6. APA’s Analysis: Guidelines for Hazards Mitigation and Disaster Recovery

Note to reviewers:   This discussion section, still in draft form, is intended to highlight key findings of two APA guidebooks published in 1998 and 2010. This summary should be carefully reviewed to be sure it reflects the general direction of the guidebooks in terms of content and tone. It should also be forwarded to APA for official review and any necessary corrections prior to broad availability on the Internet. The goal of this summary is to promote the availability of these publications and provide a general overview for the benefit of practitioners not previously aware of this research program of APA.

Selected Excerpts from APA Guidelines

Although there are numerous publications on these related topics, the foundation for planners to participate in Hazard Mitigation Planning and Disaster Recovery Planning can be found in two American Planning Association documents, both being reports issued via the Planning Advisory Service:

  • PAS Report 483/484 (single bound report) published in 1998
  • PAS Report 560, published in 2010

Following are excerpts from the publications, both of which provide specific guidance about the roles of agencies and the planning process

PAS 483/484: Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction (1998)

Significance of residential reconstruction as economic priority

…(I)n communities with severely damaged residential neighborhoods, employee dislocation can result in the inability of much of the work force to continue its normal work patterns, at least temporarily complicating economic activity for businesses that otherwise be unaffected. [References are provided to Tampa Bay 1994 model plan derived from experiences in Dade County’s extensive damages from Hurricane Andrew two years earlier.]

A related issue that good comprehensive planning should address in this regard is the differential impact of disasters on different communities or sectors within communities. Some low-income communities may, for instance, suffer disproportionate damage due to the relative age of housing stock and the limited financial capacity of many residents to undertake(or in the case of tenants, even influence) effective mitigation measures or post-disaster repairs. Recovery thus becomes relatively more difficult and prolonged than might be the case in a more affluent neighborhood and neighborhood businesses may also suffer accordingly. (p. 54)

Disaster Recovery Plans Belong In Comprehensive Plan

Although a plan for post-disaster recovery and reconstruction can be conceived and prepared as a stand-alone document, it should ideally be part of a community’s comprehensive plan, and therefore be integrally linked with all other elements of the city’s plans. (p. 65)

Relate Reconstruction Goals to Other Plans

The essential lesson is that a community’s ability to marshal disaster assistance and use it effectively does not depend solely on its ability to make a case for the need to rebuild the community. It depends instead on the community’s ability to relate those reconstruction goals to larger plans it has developed for the community’s overall future. Fitting disaster assistance aims into those larger aims allows officials to be more creative in thinking about the kinds of funds that may be appropriate to the situation. Those can include a variety of possibilities: rural economic development, housing, transportation, environmental protection, parks and recreation, urban redevelopment, and even health and sanitation. (p. 74)

Land use is the most important element in post-disaster plan

Of the various categories of elements in the post-disaster plan, …(land use) … is the most crucial. The overall intent is to provide for the means of learning valuable new land-use lessons from the disaster, to enable the city to incorporate them consistently into the mitigation plans and to amend its post-disaster plan as needed, and thus to minimize future risk by fostering a culture of adaptation to new information. This is, in other words, the primary feedback loop. More specifically, the appropriate amendments would tend to focus on updating priorities for changes in land uses or properties for acquisition or various forms of hazard mitigation, as well as planning changes in capital improvements planning, street width and design, and other issues affecting overall urban design. (p. 101)

Floodplain regulations are key but they link to other important community planning objectives

Floodplain management is the most frequent hazard-related objective of zoning because not only is flooding the most common hazard, but also because mapping of flood hazards most easily lends itself to such purposes. Most communities rely on the use of Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to determine the boundaries of floodplain zones in local ordinances. … In concert with floodplain management regulations based on NFIP minimum requirements, zoning remains one of local government’s most powerful tools for controlling development in special flood hazard areas, especially if it is tied to a well-prepared floodplain management plan. …

Focusing strictly on hazard mitigation, however, is a major mistake. Floodplain zoning is an ideal regulatory tool for achieving multiple community planning objectives, including resource conservation, open space, water-quality protection, and recreation goals. [Includes multiple source citations] (p. 124)

Similarity between post-disaster recovery and typical zoning battles in communities – legal issues

Disasters are by their nature disjointing experiences. Both mitigation and reconstruction require exercises of governmental power that leave many property owners feeling that some or all of their rights have been violated. On the other hand, many other citizens want local government to move as quickly as possible to restore order, to clean up debris, and to remove the vacant or destroyed buildings so that redevelopment can proceed. Governments decree emergency measures based on special powers that some applaud and others fear. Nature has unleashed the essential legal and financial issues that confront planners, city managers, mayors, elected officials, and others who must exercise the authority of government to initiate the process of post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. (p. 169)

Theoretical vs. Pragmatic Policy Options (Oakland Hills Firestorm, 1991, California)

After major wildland fires and similar disasters, critical policy issues emerge regarding whether to relocate or replan the community or neighborhood to gain greater safety. In such situations, theoretical reconstruction policy options may cover a wide spectrum, ranging from land acquisition and relocation of the neighborhood or community at one end to imposition of relatively minor construction changes at the other. Choices made tend to honor victims’ needs to rebuild quickly without sufficient thought to options which may be available. Yet decisions made during the early days following a disaster such as the Oakland fire may have significant long-term consequences for future public safety. Often, in the rush to restore normalcy, development is permitted under some of the same unsafe conditions that contributed to the intensity of the disaster. (p. 266)

PAS 560: Hazard Mitigation, Integrating Best Practices into Planning (May 2010)

Role of Community Planners in Hazard Mitigation

Mitigation, a cornerstone of emergency management, is defined as taking sustained actions to reduce or eliminate long-term risks to people and property from hazards. … Community planners have an integral role in shaping their communities. Tools that are the mainstay of the planning professional—such as building codes, zoning, and land-use plans—are keys to mitigation. … Community planners share the responsibility to seek out their emergency management counterparts and become part of the emergency management team to jointly determine what shared values and potential solutions work best for their community. (page ii, Forward by Craig W. Fugate)

Disaster Recovery Planning Linked to Hazard Mitigation

… (R)ecovery and mitigation are in many ways joined at the hip. Effective mitigation clearly makes recovery easier in most cases by reducing the levels of damage that occur; at the same time, the recovery period often affords significant political and financial opportunities to advance the logic of mitigation against future disasters. Thus, it should not be surprising that state policies on mitigation planning have a powerful impact on prospects for long-term community recovery, and vice versa. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business Civic Leadership Center has detailed many of these interrelationships in an attempt to argue for more comprehensive state planning in this regard. [cites Alesch n. d. ….add citation] (p. 24)

Planners Interest in Emergency Operations Plans

Operational plans generally deal with the management and coordination of certain functions of local or regional government. The two types most relevant to planners dealing with hazard mitigation are emergency operations plans, which are most commonly the responsibility of emergency manager, and continuity-of-operations plans, which lay out how a particular entity plans to maintain its functionality in the event of an emergency. This latter type of plan is particularly important for any type of critical facility. (p. 44)

Testing Plan Implementation

The Safe Growth Audit is a method to analyze how the full slate of current policies, ordinances, and plans on community safety affects hazard risks due to growth. The audit gives the community a comprehensive but concise evaluation of the positive and negative effects of its existing growth-guidance framework on future hazard vulnerability. It informs citizens and decision makers about important safety issues and highlights needed changes in policy and planning instruments. [cites David Godschalk, “Safe Growth Audits,” in Zoning Practice, September 2009.] (p. 54)

Integrate Hazards Considerations

… (F)inding ways to integrate the consideration of hazards into routine planning discussions is the most effective way to ensure that they are addressed when the community is in the best position to forestall problems. (page 131)

Need Parallel Hazards Goals in Comprehensive Plan

… (C)onfusion can ensue in the treatment of hazards when the goals in a hazard mitigation plan are absent from the comprehensive plan. In addition, the hazard mitigation plan lacks the legal standing as a reference point for local land-development regulations that the comprehensive plan typically possesses. (p. 132)

Implementation via Both Investment and Regulations

Even a comprehensive plan means nothing unless accompanied by some means of implementing its goals and objectives. This is most often achieved through public investment and by making and enforcing rules governing development. Goals and objectives that seek to minimize a community’s exposure to hazards most often need one or both of these types of implementation support. [examples cited in transportation, capital improvements programming, flood control, public facilities] (p. 132)

Shared Project Strategies

Hazard mitigation shares essential values with many other planning goals that may prove mutually beneficial in terms of providing financial support or political will or both. Examples include public land acquisition or conservation easements for parks and open space in hazard-prone areas where allowing development would be more problematic. These actions tend to buttress the political support for the hazard mitigation plan with support for the objectives involved. (p. 133)

Hazard Considerations in Redevelopment

One reason for thorough integration of hazard mitigation into the plan implementation process is to ensure that hazards are considered in area redevelopment plans and in site plan reviews, as well as in any planning activity affecting the quality of development. The failure to account adequately for hazards when vulnerable areas are developed sets the stage for disaster losses. In most cases, the up-front costs of appropriate mitigation in the original scheme would have been far less than the later losses. (p.135)

Linking Hazard Mitigation Plans with other Planning

Creativity in many cases consists largely of associative thinking. It is a matter of discovering new connections between seemingly different ideas. It is realizing new ways to harness the strength of one idea to promote another. (Integrated hazard mitigation planning) … is ultimately all about establishing linkages among the often isolated plans for hazard mitigation and the everyday functions of most urban and regional planning. The way forward is to challenge ourselves to consider how the various parts of community planning may fit together in new ways to achieve goals valued by the entire community. (p. 137)